This was the first step Wednesday in right-hander Yovani Gallardo’s revitalization plan as he pushed through the Mariners’ initial workout for pitchers and catchers at the Peoria Sports Complex.
A new year and a new chance with a new club.
Soon to be 31, Gallardo is a 10-year veteran whom the Mariners acquired from Baltimore in a Jan. 6 trade for outfielder Seth Smith. On second thought, maybe getting out of Baltimore was Gallardo’s first step.
Simply put, 2016 wasn’t a good year.
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“It’s definitely different,” Gallardo acknowledged. “It’s one of those things. Last year, I was a free agent and didn’t know where I was going to pitch. How to prepare yourself in that sort of (situation)?
“It’s two weeks into spring before I knew what club I was going to be a part of. I think that was the most important part. Feeling comfortable and making those final preparations. It was tough.”
Gallardo spent eight years in Milwaukee, finding success on what was often one of the National League’s bottom feeders, before a January 2105 trade sent him to Texas. As a pending free agent, he was, essentially, a one-year rental.
It worked out. Gallardo went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA while making 33 starts and helping the Rangers win the American League West. Texas then decided it wanted Gallardo back but only on a short-term deal.
When talks went nowhere, the Rangers extended a qualifying offer — meaning (at the time) that Gallardo was free to sign elsewhere if his new club was willing to surrender a high draft pick as compensation.
Gallardo soon learned what others previously experienced, that the loss of a draft pick has a chilling effect on a player’s free-agent value. He was still in limbo when spring training arrived.
Finally, Baltimore stepped forward with a three-year offer for $35 million. It represented a cut in pay, but Gallardo saw no better alternative. A routine physical then prompted concerns, which led to renewed negotiations.
The two sides finally agreed to a two-year deal for a guaranteed $22 million with a $13 million club option for 2018. It was nearly March before Gallardo was in uniform.
Pushing himself to make up for lost time, Gallardo soon experienced shoulder soreness, which resulted in declining velocity and a loss of command. He gave up three runs in his first spring inning. That set the tone for the entire year.
He made just four April starts — allowing 14 runs and 23 hits in 18 innings — before shoulder and biceps tendinitis forced him to the disabled list for nearly two months.
Gallardo made 19 starts after returning in June. Some good. Many not. He finished the season at 6-8 with a 5.42 ERA. It was, easily, the worst year of his career.
“There are always some things you can take out of a season,” he said, “no matter how good of a year or how bad of a year you might have. A lot of things didn’t go my way.
“But yet again, I learned some things over the last couple of months when I was able to come back. I was able to finish off the year being healthy. Going into the off-season, I knew what I had to do to maintain that health and be at 100 percent.”
Gallardo insists he is healthy from an off-season regimen designed to strengthen his shoulder and biceps. He is so confident, in fact, that he’s planning to pitch next month for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
“I feel great,” he said. “I feel strong. It’s just a matter of now continuing that.”
The Mariners are buying in, believing that a healthy Gallardo, one who resembles his 2015 form at Texas, can provide a major boost to their rotation.
“He has nine years-plus of major league service,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said, “and virtually all of that time, he has been a good major league pitcher. We expect that he’s going to come in and be that.
“This guy is one year removed from a four-win season on baseball-reference(.com) WAR (wins above replacement value) in 2015 with the Rangers.”
That WAR value in 2015 ranked seventh among American League pitchers.
One question facing Gallardo, even if healthy, is similar to that which confronts Felix Hernandez: He is now in his 30s with a lot of mileage on his arm. And, like Hernandez, Gallardo no longer throws as hard as he once did.
“I’ve been hearing about that for the past couple of years,” Gallardo said. “I realize that. I know that my velocity is not where it used to be when I was first came up. It’s just a matter that you’ve got to learn how to pitch.
“I know how to get guys out in different ways. It might be early in the count. Or to go for a strikeout whenever you need to. That’s what pitching is about. You’ve got to be able to move the ball around, locate and mix speeds.
“Ask any hitter what’s more difficult — velocity or a mix of speeds?”
For Gallardo, it’s time to start answering all sorts of questions. Wednesday was the first step.