Woodruff 'locked in,' singlehandedly outhits Phils

May 26th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- wasn’t perfect, but he came mighty close.

The Brewers’ 26-year-old right-hander dominated the Phillies for eight innings Sunday on a day delivered his Major League-leading 21st home run and went deep twice. Woodruff even chipped in at the plate with a pair of run-scoring hits, while saving his best work for the mound in a breezy, 9-1 win at Miller Park.

Woodruff set a career high with 10 strikeouts (including three of Bryce Harper), didn’t issue a walk and yielded only one hit -- Andrew Knapp’s home run to lead off the sixth that proved to be the Phillies’ only baserunner all day. It was the only thing standing between Woodruff and a chance to become the first Brewers pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Juan Nieves in 1987.

"Thank goodness for Knappy,” Harper said. “A lot of us thought [Woodruff] had stuff to be perfect today."

You can put this performance from Woodruff and , who tossed a perfect ninth, among the most well-pitched games in Brewers history. It marked the first time ever that Milwaukee’s opponent reached safely -- via a hit, walk or hit by pitch -- only once.

“I threw a no-hitter in high school, but never anything close to a perfect game,” Woodruff said. “I didn’t really think much about it. I was just out there trying to make pitches and get outs.”

He was so dialed into every pitch, topping out at 98.4 mph with a live fastball, that Woodruff didn’t know he was flirting with history. He didn’t realize that he threw all 97 of his pitches from the windup until manager Craig Counsell mentioned it postgame, or that he ended each of his eight innings with a strikeout until a reporter pointed it out.

Even after Knapp homered, ending Woodruff’s bid for history after 15-up, 15-down to start the game, it did not immediately register that it was Philadelphia’s first hit.

“I think I was just locked in today,” Woodruff said.

But like any pitcher, Woodruff did realize that he collected a couple of big hits of his own. In fact, Woodruff, a left-handed hitter who can swing the bat, collected more hits than he allowed. He doubled home one run and singled home another to help the Brewers build a 7-0 lead before making his lone mistake of the afternoon to Knapp.

“Maybe I could have went with a different pitch, a different selection,” Woodruff said. “But I went in and asked where the pitch was -- if it was down -- and they said it was down. So he did a really good job with it. Going back, you always can say you [wish you could] take it back, but at that moment, I was convicted with throwing a changeup. So you just tip your cap.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the deepest a Brewers pitcher had carried a bid for a perfect game since Aaron Wilkerson retired the first 17 Cardinals batters on Oct 1, 2017, at St. Louis.

Following the Knapp homer, Woodruff retired the next nine batters to finish a second straight eight-inning outing before Counsell opted, over Woodruff’s pleading, to have Albers finish the lopsided game. It’s the first time a Brewers pitcher has worked eight innings in consecutive starts since Taylor Jungmann in 2015.

Here’s a more obscure statistical nugget with a memorable payoff: Woodruff was the first Brewers pitcher to work at least eight innings, allow one hit and log double-digit strikeouts since CC Sabathia in Pittsburgh on Aug. 31, 2008. That game remains fresh in the minds of many Brewers fans because the only Pirates hit was an infield single that then-manager Ned Yost contends to this day should have been ruled an error on Sabathia.

“He’s really good, man,” said Harper of Woodruff. “He looks like a Matt Harvey when he came up. Exploding fastball, curveball, changeup. Pitching the top of the zone. I think he’s really good.”

It continued a run of quality pitching for Woodruff, who is in his third Major League season, but making consistent starts for the first time. He had a 5.81 ERA after his fifth start of 2019, but is 5-0 with a 1.42 ERA in six starts since.

What changed?

“I think I’ve been pretty consistent with this -- I think he’s pitched well all year,” Counsell said. “He gave up some runs in his first three or four starts, but I don’t think, stuff-wise, anything’s changed.

“... His fastball’s been overpowering, that’s what happened here. And he’s trusting it, really trusting it. If I point to a small thing, it would be that.”

Grandal saw it coming. Back in April while Woodruff was struggling, he pulled the pitcher aside for a conversation and said he told him, “We’re so close. It just feels like every time you’re starting, I feel like you can go eight innings. We’re literally right there.’”

And here they are.

“After that outing in Atlanta, we started to see the growth from him,” Grandal said. “The good thing was he was able to come out and do the same thing. We'll see what happens in his next start.”