Yovani Gallardo was supposed to be eased back into the mix from his return from knee surgery. Fighting for a playoff spot in the final week of the season, however, the Milwaukee Brewers can no longer afford to follow that course.
With a chance to possibly take the outright lead in the NL wild-card race, the right-hander is scheduled to start in his first appearance in almost five months Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park.After losing 14 of 19 and falling out of the wild-card lead, Milwaukee (87-71) won its third straight contest, 4-2 on Wednesday for its 11th consecutive victory against Pittsburgh. The Brewers are 13-1 this season versus the Pirates (65-93), who have dropped 14 in a row overall at Miller Park.More importantly for the Brewers, they moved into a tie atop the wild-card standings with the New York Mets, who lost in 10 innings to Chicago on Wednesday. With a victory and a Mets' loss Thursday, Milwaukee will take a one-game lead for the wild card heading into its final regular-season series with the NL Central champion Cubs."Every game's a playoff game, and we're still breathing," said CC Sabathia, who pitched on three days' rest for the second straight game and struck out 11 in seven innings Wednesday.Now, Milwaukee turns to another of its young stars as it tries to solidify a starting rotation that's in shambles due to an injury to Ben Sheets and ineffectiveness from Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra.Gallardo (0-0, 1.80 ERA) was activated from the disabled list Tuesday and will see his first action since tearing a ligament in his right knee against the Cubs on May 1 in his third start."I'm sure he's not going to go much more than 70 pitches or something like that," interim manager Dale Sveum said. "He's a guy that can give you some quick innings and if we put him in the bullpen, who knows, we might not even get to use him. I kind of want to see him out there."The Brewers plan to start Suppan in Friday's opener with the Cubs, with Sheets slated for Saturday if his sore elbow is better. Sabathia could come back again on short rest Sunday if needed."We've kind of made our decisions and we're going to stick with them," Sveum said. "Everybody knows that now."Gallardo, who went 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA as a rookie last year, allowed four runs in 20 innings of his first three outings this season and is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two career starts versus the Pirates.After Prince Fielder's two-run homer in bottom of ninth gave Milwaukee a 7-5 win in Tuesday's series opener, he drove in a run and had one of Milwaukee's two hits Wednesday.Fielder has hit safely in 14 straight games, batting .407 (22-for-54) with six home runs and 18 RBIs during that span.Pittsburgh's Adam LaRoche hit his 24th homer Wednesday to extend his hitting streak to six games at Miller Park, where he is batting .318 with three homers in 2008.Zach Duke (5-14, 4.96) looks to avoid matching a career high for losses when he makes his final 2008 start for the Pirates. Though he didn't earn a decision in his last start, Duke allowed five runs and 11 hits in five-plus innings of a 15-8 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers last Wednesday."Without his best stuff, I thought he competed pretty well," manager John Russell told the Pirates' official Web site.The left-hander is 3-4 with a 5.08 ERA in 11 starts versus the Brewers, and 0-1 with a 9.72 ERA in two outings against them this season.