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Improvement, not contract, Gallardo's priority

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo is coming off what he calls his "worst year," and he is entering a contract year. Yet he used the word "relaxed" several times when describing his mindset.

"It has gone by quick. That's a good thing," said Gallardo. The right-hander, who will turn 28 before month's end, will earn $11.25 million this season at the end of a five-year deal. The Brewers hold a $13 million option for 2015 with a $600,000 buyout.

"I've enjoyed playing for Milwaukee and the fans have treated me well," he said. "I'm excited to be part of the organization and go out there and perform for them."

Last year, Gallardo did not perform to expectations. Following an offseason marred by the death of his mother, he hurried to prepare for the World Baseball Classic and was already struggling in the regular season when he was arrested in April for drunk driving.

Gallardo salvaged his season with a solid second half, finishing 12-10 with a career-worst 4.18 ERA. He was worth 0.5 wins above replacement (WAR), according to the measure, the lowest mark of Gallardo's career.

"I think it's obviously the worst year I've had since coming up to the big leagues," Gallardo said. "My No. 1 goal is to make each year better. Last year, I went in the opposite direction. I have to get back on track and fix the things I have to fix."

At least he will get to make those fixes at Maryvale Baseball Park. Last year, Gallardo was the ace of Mexico's entry to the World Baseball Classic, and was briefly in doubt when a groin injury flared up. Gallardo overcame that setback to pitch in the tournament, but manager Ron Roenicke is certain that it had an adverse effect on the regular season ahead.

Gallardo essentially agreed.

"I don't want to say any excuses or blame anything on certain things, but I felt a little bit rushed," Gallardo said. "Trying to get in shape for it and the [groin] injury I had early in spring, that didn't help. I'm coming in here a little bit more relaxed. I can throw on my own pace. I'm excited."

He said he plans to use his curveball more often in 2014, a pitch Gallardo has strayed from in recent years as he learned more heavily on a cutter/slider.

Of the curveball, he said, "I'm going to try to use it a little bit more. Last year, early in the year, I ran into trouble throwing [mostly] fastball/slider, the pitches I was throwing. Whenever I did throw a curveball, it was out of the zone. The main thing is to try to throw it for strikes more, try to throw a good curveball to get me back even in the count or get ahead in the count with the first pitch. I think it's going to make a huge difference. I was able to do that the first few years when I came up; in '07, I was able to throw it in any count. I think it's going to help me a lot."

Why did he get away from it?

"Probably the cutter/slider, to be honest," Gallardo said. "I think I kind of fell in love with it. I was able to throw it in any situation, any count. But that's a harder pitch, and it's a similar velocity to my fastball. The hitters are able to time it better. You need something slower and with different angles."

Gallardo has been the Brewers' Opening Day starter the last four seasons, but he has competition this year from Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.
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