Ron Roenicke was told beforehand how special Yovani Gallardo could be on the mound when on top of his game.

But he had to see it to believe it.

"He's probably been a little bit more (than expected)," said the Milwaukee Brewers' first-year manager. "I knew this guy was a good pitcher but I just didn't realize the stuff and the command he had with all of his pitches.

"Until you see a guy that is a top pitcher, you don't quite get it."

Roenicke certainly liked what he saw from Gallardo during the exhibition season. In five starts, the 25-year-old right-hander compiled a 2-0 record and 1.96 earned run average, allowing only 14 hits and five walks in 18 1/3 innings while striking out 23 hitters. Opponents batted a mere .206 against him.

Catcher Wil Nieves, also new to the club, came away suitably impressed.

"It's just the way he goes after hitters," said Nieves, who will be behind the plate Thursday when Gallardo takes the mound for the season opener against Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park.

"He's very aggressive. He's not afraid of getting hit. He attacks the hitters. He will throw any pitch in any count. He's such a competitor. You know he's going to give you his best every time out."

As disappointed as the Brewers were when projected opening day starter Zack Greinke went on the disabled list with a cracked rib, suffered playing pickup basketball, they were enthusiastic with the fallback position in Gallardo. After all, he did start on opening day in 2010, an indication of his status as the team's budding ace.

"I'll take my chances with 'Yo' on opening day, either way you cut it," said third baseman Casey McGehee.

Keeping focusFor one thing, the Brewers expect Gallardo to handle all the pregame hoopla that goes with opening day of the baseball season. It's easy to get distracted by all the glitz if you don't stay focused, which never has been a problem for the normally placid native of Mexico.

"He's so mature," said Nieves. "I can tell he's that kind of guy. You don't want to be on a roller coaster all season. I'm just happy I'm on his side now and don't have to face him."

Recalling last year's opening-day experience against Colorado at Miller Park, Gallardo said, "There's a lot of things going on. You feel a lot of excitement. It definitely does help to have some experience with what to expect. Just having done it last year will help."

When the Brewers made news by acquiring Greinke and Shaun Marcum over the winter to bolster their starting rotation, Gallardo accepted the challenge as the incumbent No. 1 starter. He reported to camp in superb condition, down some 10 pounds, and immediately went to work at honing his pitches.