Woodford making a case to remain in rotation

August 24th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Searching for weeks for a reliable fifth starter until they can get injured pitchers Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz back, the Cardinals just might have found an option Tuesday in well-traveled spot starter Jake Woodford.

Woodford was a candidate for the starting rotation back in March in Spring Training, but that shot didn’t come until Tuesday’s second game of a doubleheader against the Cubs. Woodford has had five stints with the big league club mostly in a relief role, otherwise pitching for Triple-A Memphis, and a stable role for him never materialized.

The 25-year-old Tampa native stated his case for remaining in the rotation Tuesday when he allowed just one run on four hits and one walk over 5 1/3 innings as the Cardinals beat the Cubs, 13-3, to split a doubleheader. Tuesday’s outing fell a third of an inning short of the longest one of his career, and Woodford was none too pleased about coming out of the game after handing the ball to manager Oliver Marmol one out into the sixth inning.

“I’m definitely confident in my abilities at this level, and getting this opportunity to start today, I saw this as an opportunity,” said Woodford, who threw a career-high 5 2/3 innings at Busch Stadium last July. “I just wanted to go out there, trust my stuff, compete and try to go get a win.”

Woodford pitched well enough to possibly challenge for incumbent fifth starter Dakota Hudson’s spot in the rotation. Hudson, who was recently skipped for a start in order to address his issues against left-handed hitters, is scheduled to start Thursday’s series finale against the Cubs. In his past two outings, Hudson lasted just 5 and 4 1/3 innings while surrendering a combined six runs. On the season, Hudson is 6-6, but he has a 4.33 ERA and only six of his 22 outings have been quality starts.

“I’ll ask the question -- Does [Woodford] take Hudson’s spot? Not right now, no,” Marmol said. “I’d like to see Hudson pitch on Thursday. … I think we’re at a point where we have out [if Woodford has staying power].”

Marmol said the Woodford/Hudson debate will move closer to the forefront of his thinking, especially with Hudson set to make a start in two days with his job potentially on the line. Marmol wants to see Hudson embrace the challenge and enjoy the success he’s had in the past.

“That’s what this sport is -- competition. And you either do it or you don’t,” Marmol said candidly. “There’s always somebody else who wants to take your job. They do it similar, but it’s different in how they get ground balls.”   

The intrigue of the one-sided nightcap came when Albert Pujols was used to pinch-hit in the ninth inning, and the Cubs countered with DH Franmil Reyes to pitch. Pujols entered the at-bat having homered off 449 pitchers, which is tied for first all time with Barry Bonds. Reyes got Pujols in an 0-2 hole with two almost 82 mph fastballs. Then, on the third pitch of the at-bat, Reyes hit Pujols in the shoulder with a 70.7 mph curveball and was booed by a Wrigley Field crowd that earlier chanted, “We want Albert! We want Albert! We want Albert!”

Said Marmol, who was lobbied by Game 1 loser Adam Wainwright to pinch-hit Pujols: “The lefty came out, he kills lefties, the fans wanted [it], he wanted it and he gets it.”

The Cardinals were blanked 2-0 in the first game of the doubleheader to snap their eight-game winning streak. The Cards were held scoreless for the 12th time this season, and they were their own worst enemy much of the game. St. Louis was 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners.

The lack of run support made a loser out of Wainwright despite him giving up just two earned runs on five hits and four walks over six innings. One run scored when a chopper over the mound exceeded the reach of the 6-foot-7 Wainwright by mere inches, while the second run came across when a comebacker ricocheted off the veteran pitcher’s glove.

The Cardinals gave Woodford plenty of run support by getting home runs from Nolan Arenado, Tyler O’Neill and Tommy Edman. Also, Corey Dickerson had a four-hit night with two doubles.

For Woodford, Tuesday’s start was good for his psyche after being demoted to Triple-A four times this season.

“I’m not out there to prove anything because I firmly believe I can have success at this level,” Woodford said. “The mindset was to attack and get a win. Outside of that, it’s stuff that I can’t control, so I focused on what I can control.”