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Gallardo seeks to rebound from poor first start before leaving Mariners for WBC

Mariners right-hander Yovani Gallardo had a tough outing in his spring debut. He gets another chance Saturday before departing for the World Baseball Classic.
Mariners right-hander Yovani Gallardo had a tough outing in his spring debut. He gets another chance Saturday before departing for the World Baseball Classic. AP

A rocky spring debut in the rear-view mirror, veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo looks to create a better impression Saturday with his new teammates before heading off to the World Baseball Classic.

Gallardo is ticketed to pitch three innings when the Mariners travel to Salt River Fields in Scottsdale for a game against the Colorado Rockies. He lasted just one inning Monday when he allowed four runs in a 14-3 loss to Kansas City.

"You’re out there for the first time in a few months," Gallardo said, "and I’m so competitive. I miss a couple of pitches by an inch or so, then the next thing you know, you try to overthrow. Or you try to be more fine with it."

One bad outing is February typically doesn’t mean much for a 10-year veteran, but Gallardo, 31, is coming off a low-point season and looking to reset his career with a new club.

And that bit about being too "fine" and its corresponding problems? Correcting that tendency is a spring priority. A second straight stumble is something to be avoided.

"Pitchers, as their stuff backs off a little bit as they move on their career," manager Scott Servais said, "they tend to be a little too fine. `I’ve got to live right on the edge.’ It’s hard to live right on the edge all of the time.

"You’ve got to be more in an attack mode. Here it is, hit it and take your chances. I think he, at times, has gotten away from that."

Gallardo admitted that happened Monday against the Royals.

"I was trying to be perfect from the first pitch on," he said. "I got ahead of the first two guys, and then I tried to be too fine with it. You just run yourself into trouble."

The one positive Monday was Gallardo threw all of his pitches, felt good in doing so and departed with no problems beyond an ugly line in the box score.

"I was just missing pitches by a little bit," he said. "Early in the count, I was just getting behind. Usually, that’s what happens in spring training. You fall behind guys, and your stuff isn’t as sharp as it will be once the season starts."

The health is no small thing.

Gallardo battled shoulder problems early last season while pitching in Baltimore, which occurred, at least in part, from his effort to push himself into game-shape after signing a free-agent deal in late February.

He never found a comfort zone, and the result was that he made just 23 starts while going 6-8 and compiling a 5.42 ERA for a club that reached postseason. Further, his walk rate spiked to a career-high 4.7 per nine innings.

The Mariners acquired Gallardo in a Jan. 6 trade for outfielder Seth Smith because they saw his year in Baltimore as an aberration.

"He has nine years-plus of major-league service," general manager Jerry Dipoto said, "and virtually all of that time, he has been a good major-league pitcher. We expect that he’s going to come in and be that."

Dipoto pointed to Gallardo’s 2015 performance at Texas as a better indicator: 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA in 33 starts with a walk rate of 3.3 per nine innings. All Gallardo needed, club officials believe, is to regain his mojo.

That means a more aggressive approach.

"He had a lot of traffic last year for a number of reasons," Servais said, "but one is because in those critical counts, he was not as good as he should have been at getting the ball over the plate. Just a little bit different mind-set."

That’s what Gallardo is looking to show Saturday against the Rockies before leaving to join Mexico, which begins its WBC schedule March 9 against Italy in front of a home crowd in Jalisco.

Gallardo is lined up to start that game, but first things first.

"The most important thing," he said, "is to prepare for Seattle. You want to go out there and compete (for Mexico). No doubt about it. I want to go out there and win every ballgame I get the opportunity to pitch."

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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