ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals sent Jake Woodford to the Minors with two goals in mind. They had an eye on his future, knowing his potential as a former first-round Draft pick could be maximized pitching as a starter. And they had an eye on their current situation, with just three healthy starters on the roster and a simple need to fill innings out of the break.
Time spent stretching out was time maximized. In the second start of his Major League career -- his first at Busch Stadium and first in front of any sort of fans -- Woodford didn’t just provide a glimpse, he provided a respite.
The right-hander tossed 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the Cardinals’ 8-3 win over the Cubs on Monday evening, most importantly not walking a batter for his first time in a start -- at any level -- since 2018. It was a stark deviation from Woodford’s first career start, thrust into the second leg of a doubleheader against the White Sox at the 11th hour, part of the Cardinals’ first game back from their COVID-19 outbreak last season.
“The two experiences were a little different,” Woodford said, “that's for sure.”
Different as in he had the ability to fly in his mom and dad for his first win as a starter, and it was the first time his father was in attendance for a game.
“My first [win], I don't even think I threw a full inning,” Woodford said. He threw nearly six full ones on Monday, working through the top of the Cubs’ order three times.
“He did exactly what we've asked the guys to do,” said manager Mike Shildt. “Go command the baseball, be in the zone, work with a good tempo.”
It helped that Woodford was backed by eight runs -- three via back-to-back homers from Dylan Carlson and a white-hot Paul Goldschmidt and the majority of the rest in a single frame. It was in that fourth inning when the Cardinals took advantage of three errors (two from Cubs shortstop Javier Báez) and scored four runs with a single ball leaving the infield.
Speed -- especially in the middle of the Cardinals’ lineup -- burns.
“Effort doesn't cost anything,” said Shildt. “... Guys put it into play, we've heard that since Little League -- you put the ball in play, you’ve got a chance.”
The good vibes were abound from the scuffling offense, only the Cardinals’ fourth time since the start of June scoring at least eight runs. And the good vibes followed Woodford off the mound, to the tune of 38,199 on Monday evening.
The positive results haven’t followed Woodford so consistently this season, though. Breaking with the team out of Spring Training as the long reliever, Woodford bounced around innings, was bounced around by competition and was optioned to the Minors on June 28. He got three starts to stretch out and focus on command, as he had 14 walks compared to 21 strikeouts on the year before the demotion.
The early results? Zero walks from Woodford, as Cardinals pitching walked a single batter on Monday -- their 11th time this season walking one or none.
“In my starts in [Triple-A] Memphis, that was definitely an emphasis, trying to try to get ahead and stay ahead and minimize free passes,” Woodford said, “because those are tough, and they're tough to work around. Thankfully, tonight I was able to limit those.”
Woodford, the 10th starter used by the Cardinals this season, has had to wait his turn, despite injuries ravaging the rotation. His first turn? It came in front of the second-largest crowd at Busch this season, against the rival Cubs.
No pressure, though.
And Woodford pitched himself into one more, Shildt said, which will come in Cincinnati this weekend. Last time he pitched there, he was at the center of a fracas with Nick Castellanos and the home team, which used it later as a marketing ploy outside of Great American Ball Park.