CINCINNATI -- Behind closed doors, the Brewers are tackling a tough question: What -- if anything -- is wrong with Yovani Gallardo?
Gallardo needed 100 pitches for four innings of Friday's loss to the Reds, and while he has not exactly pitched poorly (he is 3-2 with a 4.70 ERA), he has also not exactly carved through opposing lineups. The right-hander's velocity is down for the second year in a row, and his strikeouts are way down, from at least nine per nine innings in each of the past four seasons to 6.1 this year.
"We'll see what happens, but this is too long of a period for him, because he's been so good for so many years, to see him scuffle at times," manager Ron Roenicke said. "So we're trying to figure out some things with him."
Roenicke declined to elaborate, only saying, "We'll get it figured out."
One answer could be working with Gallardo's approach in response to a diminished four-seam fastball. It averaged at least 92.3 mph from 2009-11, but dropped to 91.8 last year and has averaged 90.6 mph in 2013.
One result is that Gallardo's strikeouts are way down, but his workload is not. He has thrown 17 pitches per inning so far in 2013, seventh most in the National League. He was fourth in the league last year with 17.1 pitches per nine inning after ranking sixth with 16.7 in '11 and tied (with teammate Chris Narveson) for first with 17.3 pitches per inning in '10.
Some wonder whether that grind helps explain why, at age 27, Gallardo lost some zip on his fastball. Gallardo, for his part, dismissed a question about velocity after Friday's loss, saying the issue was purely command.
Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz have been discussing what, if anything, to do.
"Consistency is what I'm used to in Yovani," Roenicke said. "That's what I thought he'd give us this year. With our young guys, we needed it."
Gallardo's next start is Wednesday against the Pirates, a team he beat April 29 by allowing only one run and three hits in seven innings. He's 10-2 with a 2.49 ERA against Pittsburgh in his career.
Brewers place Gorzelanny on DL, recall Fiers
CINCINNATI -- Brewers left-hander Tom Gorzelanny could not get loose for a relief outing against the Reds on Friday, and by the close of business on Saturday, he was on the 15-day disabled list.
The Brewers placed Gorzelanny on the DL with left shoulder tendinitis and recalled right-hander Mike Fiers from Class A Brevard County. The Brewers are hopeful that Fiers, who began the season in the Brewers' starting rotation, will make it to Cincinnati before the start of Sunday's series finale against the Reds.
Fiers' stay might not be long. He had been pitching at Triple-A Nashville, but was sent to Brevard County to be closer to a family medical emergency that was ongoing as of Saturday evening, according to manager Ron Roenicke.
"He's been talking to Gord [Ash, the Brewers' assistant general manager], and they've been trying to figure out what to do with the situation at home, and [Fiers] is not sure what to do there," Roenicke said. "We tried to help him out by sending him to Florida, and now we need him."
Fiers last pitched Wednesday. He will be a much-needed arm in a bullpen that has already covered nine innings in two games against the Reds, a heavy workload at the start of a stretch of 13 games in as many days.
Gorzelanny, who is in the first season of a two-year contract, said the problem began on the Brewers' homestand.
"We're trying to take the smart route and just take a few days," he said. "Hopefully, I'll only need the 15 days. A few days before, it started bothering me, and I was able to pitch through it and get loose after. But [Friday], I couldn't get loose. Every pitcher has had that problem before. I probably could have easily pitched through it, but it wouldn't have been very good or felt very good, and there's no point in doing it this early in the season."
With Gorzelanny unavailable Saturday, the Brewers had only four available relievers behind rookie starter Hiram Burgos, who allowed 12 runs -- 10 earned -- in three innings.
Had those four relievers been unable to get through the game, Roenicke would have used utilityman Blake Lalli to pitch. Lalli was a third baseman and closer at Gardner-Webb University, and has pitched in 18 games in the Minor Leagues with a 3.21 ERA. He said when he was pitching regularly, he threw an 89-90-mph fastball with a curveball and changeup.
Aoki's off-day pays dividends for outfielder, Brewers
CINCINNATI -- Does any player in baseball get more out of a single day off than Norichika Aoki?
It's clear that no other Brewer does.
"Not only physically, but mentally, I was able to reset everything," Aoki said of his latest one-day break. "It ended up being a good day off."
Very good. When manager Ron Roenicke left Aoki out of the starting lineup on May 1 against the Pirates, Aoki was 2-for-13 over his previous three games. He then reached safely in six of his next seven games, going 13-for-26 and raising his batting average from .247 to .301 entering Saturday's game against the Reds.
Roenicke saw similar results after giving Aoki off-days last season, and there are several theories at play. One is that Aoki's smaller frame -- he is listed at 5-foot-9, 176 pounds -- requires the occasional break. Another is that he is still adjusting to the grind of Major League Baseball after so many years playing in Japan, where teams are usually off every Monday.
Aoki has also altered his personal routine by limiting the number of swings he takes every day.
"I'm getting more used to it day by day, every day," Aoki said.
When he is out of the lineup, Aoki said, "I was able to use the day to think about my hitting, and at the same time, not think about anything. I try to rest as much as possible. That's something that Ron and Johnny [Narron, the team's hitting coach] tell me as well: Try and rest as much as you can on your day off."
How does Roenicke know when it's time to give Aoki a break?
"I look at his swings," Roenicke said. "The more tired he gets, he starts flying all over the box. It's different."
Estrada's confidence returns with extra 'pen session
CINCINNATI -- Six days after saying he felt "lost" throughout a dismal start against the Cardinals, Brewers right-hander Marco Estrada sounded like a new man on Saturday.
The team is giving him two extra days off between starts, a break that afforded Estrada an extra bullpen session with pitching coach Rick Kranitz, and just as importantly, an opportunity to clear his mind of the frustration that dragged him down against St. Louis on Sunday, when he surrendered nearly as many earned runs (eight) as he recorded outs (10). He had never walked more than three batters in 100 previous Major League appearances, including 38 starts, but walked four batters Sunday before the end of the second inning.
It was the most lost Estrada had ever felt on a mound.
"By far," Estrada said. "It was a feeling that I've forgotten about. I don't want to go back there again. It was scary, you know?
"It was one of those days where nothing was working. Not my body, not my arm angle, not the mental aspect of it. Nothing."
"I feel a million times better," Estrada said. "I know those things are going to happen, but I didn't like how the mental aspect of it was lost. Normally, I feel like I have pretty good control over that. I didn't have it that day, but I've worked on it. Mentally, right now, I'm pretty strong."
Instead of pitching Saturday against the Reds as originally scheduled, Estrada will pitch Monday in Pittsburgh.
He threw his regular between-starts bullpen session on Wednesday in Milwaukee and threw another this weekend in Cincinnati. The Brewers would have preferred to have Estrada skip a start entirely, but that was not possible since Friday began a stretch of 13 games in as many days.
"I didn't really change anything except I threw two bullpens in between," Estrada said. "Mentally, I feel like I've prepared really well. I'm feeling pretty good right now. We worked on a couple of things in the 'pen, and today we're going to do a couple more things that should help me out with balance and whatnot. It is different, but it's good to have. When you have these extra days off, you have to take advantage of them."