Saturday, May 3, 2008

Yovani Gallardo out, likely for season

By Nicole
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HOUSTON -- The Brewers believed they had dodged a bullet Thursday when right-hander Yovani Gallardo, arguably the organization's best young pitcher, walked away from what looked like a gruesome knee injury. And why shouldn't they have felt good? Gallardo not only stayed in the game, he recorded another five outs.

That apparent bit of good fortune made Friday's news all the more devastating. Gallardo, 22, recorded those final five outs with a fully torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He probably requires surgery and may have thrown his final pitch in 2008.

Manager Ned Yost was already at Minute Maid Park preparing for his club's series opener against the Astros when he got word just after noon CT.

"That news kind of catches you by surprise. You're not ready for that," Yost said. "It's kind of like getting punched between the eyes. You stagger back two or three steps and you try to figure out what just happened."

Because he is a pitcher and the injury is to Gallardo's push-off leg, the odds of surgery are high. Club officials will wait for swelling in his knee to subside before considering the options.

The team placed Gallardo, who started the year on the disabled list after undergoing left knee surgery in Spring Training, on the 15-day DL. Right-hander Dave Bush was recalled from Triple-A Nashville and will take Gallardo's spot beginning Wednesday against the Marlins.

General manager Doug Melvin called it a "kick to the gut." He was already fielding calls Friday afternoon from general managers either offering sympathy or gauging Melvin's interest in acquiring additional pitching, and the GM had spoken with head pro scout Dick Groch about having Brewers scouts increase their focus on pitching.

"You spend so much time building a team," lamented Melvin, who called the news "pretty devastating, pretty tough."

Gallardo, who had a 1.80 ERA in three starts this season, was hurt in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game on Thursday, when Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson attempted to bunt for a hit up the first-base line. Prince Fielder scooped up the baseball and tagged Johnson for the out while Gallardo tried to get out of the way. Gallardo's ankle appeared to roll under a diving Johnson's body, and when Gallardo landed, his knee buckled.

He grimaced in pain, but after the initial shock and a visit from Yost and head athletic trainer Roger Caplinger, he remained in the game. Gallardo finished a scoreless fifth inning, went out for the sixth and got through the inning but surrendered two Cubs runs. Outfielder Ryan Braun thinks Gallardo's velocity was down 4-5 mph, but Yost didn't agree. Pitching coach Mike Maddux noticed that Gallardo was leaving more pitches up in the strike zone.

Yost thought he saw the pitcher limping during the sixth inning, so, for the second time, he and Caplinger visited the mound. Gallardo waved them off.

"He wanted to continue, his teammates wanted him to continue and we all wanted him to continue," Yost said. "We didn't see any reason for him not to. There were no indicators that said to us that he shouldn't."

Said Maddux: "I thought he was going to be sore, and six days from now, he's back on the bump."

That outlook changed after the game, when Caplinger had time for a more thorough examination. Trainers noticed what Yost called "looseness" in Gallardo's knee when it moved a certain way, and since the team was in Chicago, 90 miles south of Milwaukee and head team physician William Raasch, Gallardo headed north while the rest of the team boarded a flight for Houston.

An MRI exam on Friday morning confirmed the tear. By that time, Gallardo had experienced swelling.

"The doctor said no further damage could have happened by going back out to pitch," Melvin said. "Once it's torn, it's torn. Going out to pitch didn't cause any additional problems."

The Brewers wound up rallying for three runs in the ninth to stun the Cubs, and headed to Houston feeling good about the win and Gallardo's apparent good fortune. Two days earlier, ace Ben Sheets returned to the rotation after missing a start with a sore right triceps.

"The key is we never get Yovani and Ben together," a disappointed Melvin said.

Last year, Gallardo was called up from the Minors and spent much of the summer filling in for Sheets, who was on the DL with a finger injury. Gallardo went 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA in the big leagues.

His absence was certainly felt on Friday.

"It's a huge blow to us as a team," Braun said. "Nobody knows your body more than you do, and when he stayed in the game, I didn't think it was anything close to this type of severity. I was shocked when I found out."

The last Brewers player to sustain a torn ACL was infielder Tony Graffanino, who was injured in a game that Gallardo started last August. Graffanino had torn his before, and he continues to rehabilitate as a free agent.

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