Gallegos aims to bounce back in 2024 with help of old friend

March 1st, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- Last season, when Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos was uncharacteristically struggling, his right rotator cuff was bothering him some and he was at a loss for answers, he turned to a friend who was out of sight, but certainly not out of mind.

Former catcher Yadier Molina retired after 19 years behind the plate for the Cardinals and was likely somewhere in his native Puerto Rico when Gallegos called for advice. For years, Gallegos counted on Molina’s advice when he was on the mound to keep him in the right mindset, even if the language back was often harsh and about as subtle as a fastball to the gut. Not only did Gallegos never shake off a sign from the nine-time Gold Glover, but he rarely broke eye contact when Molina was barking at him.

After Gallegos had filled in his buddy on his struggles, Molina went through the vast memory bank that is his baseball brain, and he recalled a happier time for the reliever. Molina had Gallegos think back to late in the 2021 season when the Cards were hosting the Padres. That September night, Gallegos came out of the bullpen and impressively closed out the Padres with some of his nastiest fastballs and sliders.

“Sometimes I call Yadi, and last year I told him, ‘Bro, I need your help because I don’t know what’s going on with me.’ I felt terrible, so it was always good to talk to him,” Gallegos remembered. “[Molina] reminded me of the night when [Adam Wainwright] threw a great game and then I struck out the last hitter. After that last pitch, Yadi yelled, ‘You [expletive], that’s how you pitch! You are nice!’

“Yadi is my guy and my good friend. He always gives me confidence because we’ve been together in so many different situations.”

Gallegos, 32, was in a very different situation when he closed the 2023 season on the injured list with tendinitis in his right rotator cuff. To that point, Gallegos had been one of baseball’s most durable pitchers, leading the National League in appearances (268) and innings thrown as a reliever (283 1/3) since 2019, per MLB research. He topped the Cardinals in appearances in 2021 (73) and 2022 (57) before falling to third this past season (56).

“His willingness to take the ball every night, it’s one of those things that you really appreciate,” Cardinals bullpen coach Julio Rangel said. “It’s just part of his nature because he wants to win so badly. Even on the days when he’s a little tired -- and that’s just part of being a pitcher over a long season -- Gio prepares himself to go out every day and pitch whenever needed.”

All that work might have finally caught up to Gallegos in 2023 when he saw his ERA (4.42) and hard-hit rate (46.2 percent) spike dramatically, per Baseball Savant. His wipeout slider still allowed him to rank in MLB’s top two percent in chase rate (35.1 percent) and top three percent in whiff rate (36.2 percent), but it was far more effective against right-handed hitters than lefties. Six of the 11 home runs he allowed in 2023 came off sliders. Even his fastball -- one that foes hit just .208 against in 2022 -- got knocked around to the tune of .267 and four home runs in 2023, per Savant.

Things got worse for Gallegos when he was placed on the IL on Sept. 18 where he would finish the season. It was the first time he had been out and injured since 2020, and the helplessness frustrated him greatly.

“That was a bad experience for me, finishing the season on the IL,” admitted Gallegos, whose 76 holds rank third in the NL since 2019 and his 43 saves rank 16th in the same timeframe. “Last year, there was a lot of frustration with all the guys, and the results were not good. I’ve been working on my body and my stuff to be ready for this season.”

Gallegos, who has a team option in his contract for 2025, not only arrived at Spring Training early, but he’s down eight pounds after putting in more conditioning work over the winter in his hometown of Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico. Soon, Molina will rejoin the Cardinals as a special advisor to president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, who said Molina will report by the “third week of March” as originally planned. Gallegos is excited to have his friend back around, and he’s excited about what Molina can do for the Cardinals.

“Yadi will help us because he has so much experience with all kinds of different pitchers,” Gallegos said. “He always gives me good motivation, so it will be good to have him back.”