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MILWAUKEE -- With left-hander Chris Capuano about a week away from returning from a stint on the disabled list, it appeared on Monday afternoon that the Brewers were leaning toward shifting 21-year-old Yovani Gallardo to the bullpen after his next start.
But when Brewers manager Ned Yost briefly discussed his weekend pitching plans after the Brewers' 6-1 win over the Astros, things were left a bit muddled.
Yost said that Gallardo would start on Friday at Wrigley Field against the Cubs on regular rest, followed by Ben Sheets on Saturday. Yost would not identify a starter for the series finale -- it would be Claudio Vargas' regular turn to pitch -- but he did say that right-hander Dave Bush would be available out of the Brewers bullpen if needed beginning on Tuesday night.
"We're kind of trying to ride the hot hand," Yost said.
Gallardo has dazzled in his first two Major League starts, including a seven-inning, one-run, eight-strikeout stint against the Royals on Sunday. But the Brewers also have five experienced starters in Bush, Capuano, Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan and Vargas. Yost, pitching coach Mike Maddux and general manager Doug Melvin all spoke on Monday about the benefits of using Gallardo out of the bullpen.
"Nobody said the game was fair," Maddux said. "It's a good problem to have. It's a tough decision.
"Look across the board: Benny is going to start. 'Cappy' is going to start. 'Soup' is going to start. Claudio is 6-1, and we've won most of his starts [11 of 13]. Bush has been throwing the ball excellent the last few times. 'Bushy' is an innings-eater, and he has thrown up more doughnuts [scoreless innings] than anybody else."
Despite Milwaukee's success when he takes the hill, Vargas has not pitched past the sixth inning in any of his starts, and Bush is 5-6 with a 5.17 ERA. Some wondered whether the Brewers might shift one of those pitchers to the bullpen to leave a spot in the rotation for Gallardo.
"I think if we had our druthers, we would rather have [Gallardo] be a starter," Yost said. "But there is some conventional wisdom behind the fact that if we go ahead and keep Gallardo up here and use him as a long [reliever], limit his innings through July and August, if anything happens, we've got a quality starter ready to step in that's in great shape. His innings won't be way up, and he'll be strong and ready to pitch until the very end.
"That's just one point of view. We're trying to look at all different avenues -- what's best for him and what's best for us."
Yost pointed out that the Detroit Tigers shut down eventual American League Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander last September so he would be well-rested for the postseason.
"Young kids, until they get their innings to a certain point, you have to kind of break them in," Yost said. "You don't really want to overdo their innings from year to year. When they have a quantum leap from one year to the next, they always seem to suffer the year after that."
Yost, who has been working through "about nine different scenarios" to line up the starting rotation through the All-Star break, said he had not finalized his plan for the Brewers' weekend series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, but he said Gallardo would pitch one of those games.
The plan should come into focus after Vargas' performance against the Astros on Tuesday and Capuano's simulated game on Wednesday morning. If he passes that test, Capuano could rejoin the rotation on July 2 at Pittsburgh.
As for Gallardo's fate, stay tuned.
Gallardo and Carlos Villanueva are not the only pitching prospects waiting for their turn. Triple-A Nashville left-hander Manny Parra, 24, threw a perfect game on Monday to beat the Astros' top Minor League affiliate in Round Rock, Texas.
Making his second Triple-A start and notching his first win, Parra threw 77 of his 107 pitches for strikes. He did not face a three-ball count against any batter until the bottom of the seventh inning, and he worked through three-ball counts only three times all night. Nashville won, 3-0.
Parra impressed Brewers coaches in Major League Spring Training after working back last season from major shoulder surgery. Parra split the year between Class A Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville, finishing the year 3-0 with a 2.87 ERA in six starts with Huntsville.
"He was confident that he was healthy, and that went a long way for him," said Brewers third baseman Ryan Braun, a former teammate of Parra's. "Obviously, he has tremendous stuff. The biggest thing with him was just staying healthy. This is pretty special."
Parra was 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA in 13 starts at Huntsville this season. He was promoted to Nashville when Gallardo was sent to Milwaukee.
Back in action:
Shortstop J.J. Hardy returned to the lineup after missing three games with tightness in his lower back. Earlier last week, he missed another start with a sore hip, and club officials believe both injuries are related to the team's weekend trip to the carpeted Metrodome.
Hardy underwent heat treatment and deep tissue massage to work the kinks out of his back. He also battled back stiffness in Spring Training, but said this was different.
"They were trying to work those muscles out so I didn't have that tightness," Hardy said. "It worked. I feel fine."
Hardy made his presence felt immediately on Monday against the Astros, hitting a solo homer in the first inning.
Last call: Second baseman Rickie Weeks had the day off on Monday, part of Yost's plan to preserve the strength in Weeks' surgically repaired right wrist. Craig Counsell, a.393 hitter in 28 career at-bats against Astros starter Jason Jennings, started at second base. "We're going to try to give Rickie at least one day off a week," Yost said. "J.J., too." ... Major League Baseball announced on Monday that attendance is up five percent over this date in 2006, a figure bolstered by the crowds at Miller Park. Through 40 home dates, the Brewers averaged 33,227 fans, a 28 percent jump from the same point in 2006. Sunday's contest marked the team's 13th sellout; they hosted 14 sellouts in all of 2006.
Astros second baseman Craig Biggio is expected to get his only start of the series on Tuesday against right-hander Vargas and the Brewers. Biggio entered the series four hits shy of 3,000 for his career, and the Astros would like him to reach the milestone on the team's upcoming homestand. Vargas is 3-0 in June with a 4.67 ERA, and pitched five scoreless innings to beat the Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 29.