by Tyler Handlan
PEORIA — Yovani Gallardo, the hitting pitcher who doesn’t hit much nowadays, will take another cut at pitching success in the American League this season.
After stints with the Texas Rangers two years ago and the Baltimore Orioles last season, Gallardo hopes to have a rewarding first season with yet another AL team, the Seattle Mariners. They acquired him in an off-season deal for outfielder Seth Smith.
“Last year was a bit of a struggle to be honest,” Gallardo said of his career-worst season with Baltimore. “Just really focused on getting stronger and preparing myself for this year.”
Gallardo suffered shoulder tendinitis at the beginning of spring training last year.
“The main focus is to be healthy and get your work in here at spring training,” Gallardo said. “During the rehab, trainers in Baltimore did a great job. I incorporated those workouts in the offseason program to prepare for this year.”
The 31-year-old recorded a career low in wins and career high in ERA last season. He went 6-8 with a 5.42 ERA. Worse yet, he only got to bat four times.
Gallardo is perhaps the best hitting pitcher who doesn’t get to hit — in other words, the best hitting pitcher in the A.L., where since 1973 the DH has replaced the pitcher in the lineup.
And perhaps it’s no coincidence that his best year at the plate, 2010, was his best year on the mound in 2010. He earned his only All-Star nod as he went 14-7 with a 3.84 ERA, and he helped himself by batting .254 with four homers and 10 RBIs.
But when Milwaukee traded him to Texas in 2015, Gallardo ceased to be a hitter, except in the infrequent interleague games in NL parks. He has 12 career homers, but none since 2013, his second-to-last year with Milwaukee.
“Honestly I missed it a little bit the first year,” he said of hitting. “You kind of get used to doing it. In the National League, it’s something that you have to do, and I’ve always enjoyed it.”
Gallardo is a solid starter when his stuff is working, but couple that with his batting-upside for interleague road matchups, and the Mariners have a dual threat.
“It’s always nice to have a pitcher who can handle the bat a little bit,” Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said.
Gallardo said: “Any time a pitcher has the opportunity to hit, for guys that like to hit, I think you do look forward to those interleague games.”
For the third straight year, Gallardo faces the spring-training challenge of settling into his new surroundings. For Gallardo, that starts with his mates on the pitching staff. He’s been playing catch every day with another new Mariners pitcher, Drew Smyly.
“We’re locker-mates, so we’ve got to know each other pretty quickly,” Smyly said. “Once you get in this locker room and wear the same jersey, we’re all teammates.”
Gallardo must also build a rapport with his catchers.
“It’s going to be fun to catch him,” Zunino said. “His big thing is command back-and-forth on both sides of the plate. For him, it’s going to be finding that rhythm of where his mechanics fit just right. His stuff’s there, and he’s had a lot of success in this league.”
It came primarily at Texas, where in 2015 he won 13 games for a division champion.
If the Mariners have enough success, they could perhaps make their first World Series. In World Series games in the NL parks, the pitcher is in the batting order. An ideal ending to Gallardo’s year could come on a night where he’s on a World Series mound — and in a World Series batter’s box.