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Gallardo looks to work higher in strike zone

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson reported to camp with some ideas in mind for Yovani Gallardo, the former Milwaukee ace seeking to rediscover his old form in a second stint with his original team.

One of them: See whether Gallardo can find success at the top of the strike zone.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson reported to camp with some ideas in mind for Yovani Gallardo, the former Milwaukee ace seeking to rediscover his old form in a second stint with his original team.

One of them: See whether Gallardo can find success at the top of the strike zone.

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"We've discussed it as a group. I think it's about taking what he's always been good at and exploiting that a little bit more," Johnson said. "He's really good up in the zone. His ball plays well up there.

"The good part about what I've seen from him, the video I've watched, is that he's got really good command. He can throw the ball where he wants to. So maybe it's a different way of sequencing or thought process against a certain hitter, it can help him."

Gallardo is open to ideas.

"I tell all these young guys, 'Just be open. Listen to what the guys have to say,'" Gallardo said. "If you like it, you like it. If you don't, you don't. But be open.'"

Video: Counsell on Gallardo, Miley giving rotation depth

Johnson got his first look in person on Sunday, when Gallardo, who turns 32 on Tuesday, donned a Brewers uniform in a game for the first time since 2014 and began a bid for a spot in the rotation or bullpen.

He worked a scoreless inning against the D-backs, but admitted being "a little bit too excited" while throwing half of his 28 pitches out of the strike zone.

Along the way, Gallardo tried the high fastball/low curveball combination he's been discussing with Johnson. Gallardo thought he had Arizona's Kristopher Negron struck out on a check swing, but didn't get the call and went on to issue his second walk of the inning. Gallardo retired Rey Fuentes on a groundout to escape damage.

"Maybe I didn't go high enough. He kept getting a piece of it and kept fouling it off," Gallardo said. "It's one of those things we're going to be working on this spring.

"Earlier in my career, I think that was one of the things I did pretty well. Fastball up and then the curveball. Later on is when I started throwing the sider a little bit more. It's going to take some time, but it's going to work in the long run. That's the mindset I have."

Velocity is not required to pitch up in the zone (see: Brent Suter), but it helps. That is part of what drew the Brewers to Gallardo when they looked beyond his recent ERAs; his average four-seam fastball velocity jumped from 90.9 mph a year earlier to 93.4 mph, the highest it had been since Gallardo's last season with the Brewers.

"What's interesting is that when he came up, he was one of the harder throwers. Now, everyone throws hard," said longtime teammate Ryan Braun. "[Pitchers] used to be able to get away with velocity, but now you see them making adjustments because, as hitters, we're used to seeing 93-95-mph fastballs. I'm confident they'll provide him with whatever information he needs to be in the best position to be successful, and he's the type of guy who will be able to make those adjustments."

No one knows the Gallardo of old better than Braun, who was the Brewers' first-round Draft pick in 2005, one year after the team took Gallardo in the second round.

Braun is at the front of the line of those in the organization hoping there's something left.

"I've probably played with him longer than any other player, basically from the time I was drafted," said Braun. "We were together in the Minor Leagues, got to the big leagues about a month apart [in 2007], played together for a long time in the Major Leagues and had a lot of success together. We had some special moments, getting to the postseason a couple of times.

"And he was our ace. We had [Zack] Greinke and [Shawn] Marcum, but 'Yo' was the guy. So it's special for us as an organization to have him back."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Yovani Gallardo