MILWAUKEE -- After reviewing an MRI scan of his strained left oblique, the Brewers expect All-Star starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff to miss about six weeks, manager Craig Counsell said Monday, further straining an already thin rotation.
“Kind of what we expected,” Counsell said. “Obviously that’s significant. He’s going to miss some time, and he’ll do his best and we’ll do our best to get him back as fast as we can.”
How will the Brewers fill Woodruff’s absence? To be determined.
Will it make them more aggressive at next week’s Trade Deadline? Less aggressive? Or somewhere in-between? That’s to be determined, too.
Here’s where things stood as the team prepared to play on without its ace:
In the near term:
Because of open dates in the schedule on Thursday and July 29, the Brewers won’t require a fifth starter until Saturday, Aug. 3 at Wrigley Field. That buys them some time while president of baseball operations David Stearns and his staff assess available pitching. Counsell opted not to reveal his probable pitchers beyond the next two days (Zach Davies on Tuesday, Jhoulys Chacin on Wednesday), but hinted at using the schedule to buy some time. That presumably would mean Gio Gonzalez, Chase Anderson and Davies against the Cubs.
“Eventually we’re going to need that spot,” Counsell said. “But we may back it up a little bit.”
In the longer term:
The team had hoped top pitching prospect Zack Brown would be an option by now, but he has a 6.01 ERA in 17 Triple-A starts. Fellow prospect Trey Supak is having a special season at Double-A Biloxi, but that’s Double-A. The Brewers had veteran Drew Smyly in the Minors, but he opted out of his deal on Thursday to pursue a Major League opportunity with the Phillies, and delivered six strong innings on the same day Woodruff went down.
The Trade Deadline offers another avenue. This year it’s a lone deadline on July 31 at 3 p.m. CT; teams can no longer make trades in August. Stearns has acquired pitching each of the past two years, so it’s less a matter of whether he will add an arm or two -- history says he will -- and more about how high he will aim.
The Brewers’ farm system is not particularly strong after second baseman Keston Hiura, who graduated from prospect status over the weekend and would be a painful trade. The dilemma for Stearns is whether he can package enough secondary prospects to land a difference-making pitcher, and whether that would be worth it given no guarantees it will be enough to get the Brewers to the playoffs.
“We’re going to have to fill in around [Woodruff],” Counsell said. “I think we can, and we’ll look at all the ways we can do that -- both with what we’ve got personnel-wise and the schedule does allow us to do some things, and we’ll try to take advantage of that. But most importantly, we’ve got to fill in around that. … Obviously, Woody was delivering some pretty good innings, so it’s up to us pitching-wise and defensively to fill in around him.”
What it means for Woodruff:
Mostly, that he won’t pitch until September at the earliest. That’s a tough blow for a 26-year-old in his breakthrough season. And it’s a huge blow for the Brewers, who were 16-4 in Woodruff’s starts and 37-44 behind their other starters entering Monday.
“Brandon has been huge for us ever since the first three or four starts, once he settled in,” said Davies. “He’s been a guy who’s gone seven innings, eight innings a lot, and been able to give the bullpen rest on days that he throws. He’s been flat-out dominating for a good portion of this year, and even in the games that are not his best, they are still good ‘grind’ games when he gives the team a chance to win. I think the starting staff knows the shoes that need to be filled.”
Said Chacin: “It’s tough for everybody. Obviously for him more, but for the whole team too. He’s been pitching pretty well the whole season. We know how hard he worked and how he prepared. This can happen to anybody, but it’s really sad to happen to him. Hopefully he recovers fast and we have him in September.”