COMMENTARY | The group stage of the World Baseball Classic has officially reached its conclusion. Some Milwaukee Brewers advanced while others will now return home to the organization's spring training base in Maryvale to gear up for the season or fight for a roster spot. Win or lose, the Brewers couldn't really care less - their main concerns are individual performance, and even more so, health.
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke has reason to be optimistic after the first round robin, although he would probably prefer that Jim Henderson avoids getting in the middle of bench-clearing brawls, which is exactly what occurred March 9 when Mexico and Canada got in a scuffle. John Axford, Marco Estrada, Taylor Green and Yovani Gallardo wisely erred on the side of caution and played the role of peacemaker.
Now there have been some disappointing showings for Brewer players thus far in the WBC, but one can't expect all 12 Milwaukee participants to appear as if they are in midseason form. Besides, we're not here to dwell on the negatives. Let's travel outside of Maryvale and pinpoint three encouraging symbols of positivity through the group stage of the World Baseball Classic.
1. Gallardo has it all working
In 2009, Gallardo was unable to take part in the WBC coming off of an ACL injury, so he was chomping at the bit to join Team Mexico this go around despite battling a groin injury prior to the start of the tournament. He got the call against the United States March 8, but the Brewers set a pitch count of 50 on Gallardo as a precaution due to his groin issue.
After the way Gallardo performed, we should all be wondering, "what groin issue?" The knock on Gallardo is that he is unable to go deep in ball games because of the frequent lengthy at-bats he encounters, therefore running up his pitch count. But against Team USA, Gallardo got through 3 and 1/3 innings on 49 pitches and gave up one earned run - an inherited runner - while striking out four and sporting a 0.90 WHIP.
It was a pretty impressive showing for Gallardo, who went on to pick up the W despite the requested pitch count. He would have had to come out after 65 pitches anyway due to tournament rules, but the Brewers have to be optimistic about Gallardo's filthy curve ball and his willingness to go right after hitters. They can only hope the trend of low pitch counts and aggressiveness continues into the season.
2. Prospect Hiram Burgos is dealing
Will Hiram Burgos make the Brewers' 25-man roster? Probably not, but the 25-year-old right-hander has looked good in the World Baseball Classic and is a key reason why Puerto Rico, unlike Mexico, is moving past the group stage. Burgos has thrown 4 and 2/3 innings without allowing a run while striking out three and earning a hold for his native country.
Burgos had a solid year between three minor league levels in 2012, combining to go 10-4 with a 1.95 ERA and 3.12 K/BB ratio, culminating in eight starts with Triple-A Nashville. He wasn't terrible during his time in Maryvale before departing for the WBC, either, but Burgos is primarily a starting pitcher and doesn't figure into that roster battle. Last year was a breakout season for Burgos, so as a potential contributor to the big league squad in the future, it's promising to see him build on that success prior to the start of the season.
3. Lucroy and Braun are raking
Should we expect anything less? Granted, it's only been three games, but Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy are two of the best hitters in the Brewers' lineup, and so far, have been making their presence known at the international level together for Team USA.
We weren't sure how much we'd see of Lucroy due to both Joe Mauer and J.P. Arencibia being on the roster, but Mauer has been seeing time at the DH, and Lucroy is hitting .400 in six plate appearances. He also had a clutch RBI single in the ninth inning against Team Canada to help Team USA advance to the second round. As for Braun, he has started all three games and has a .308 average, although he also has four strikeouts in the tournament.
Braun's strikeout numbers took a jump last season, and he seemed to have difficulty hitting in the Feb. 10 day game against Canada when the shadows crept between the mound and home plate. He's also had issues during day games in Milwaukee and is essentially the reason for the partially closed roof strategy Miller Park utilized, but hey - whatever it takes. Braun and Luc will look to take their experiences going up against the world's best and ride them into the upcoming season.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who contains an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
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- Yovani Gallardo