Woodruff became the first National League pitcher to reach the 10-win plateau Saturday, working into the eighth inning of the Brewers’ 3-1 victory over the Pirates at Miller Park in which Hader once again slammed the door.
Pitcher wins might not matter as much to some these days, but team wins still do, and the Brewers are 14-3 when Woodruff takes the mound compared to 30-36 behind everyone else. They are 26-4 when they manage to get the baseball into Hader’s left hand.
“You look at the numbers across the board, the guy [Woodruff] is legit,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “That’s the best fastball we’ve seen from him. He held it through seven innings. The slider was tight; he threw it in any count. He’s 10-2 for a reason. He’s legit.”
First baseman Eric Thames lent a helping hand by hitting an RBI triple in Milwaukee’s two-run first inning and a solo home run in the fourth, and relievers Matt Albers and Hader prevented a repeat of Friday’s late-inning loss as the Brewers kept pace with the Cubs, one game back in the National League Central. Hader remained all but untouchable; he has not allowed a run or a hit in his last eight appearances, including Saturday’s 1-2-3 ninth, racking up 20 strikeouts over 11 1/3 innings during that span.
“Any time you get to Hader, it’s pretty much lights out,” Woodruff said. “You’ve got a pretty good feeling if you can get to him. We’ve put [the bullpen] in some bad spots throughout the year, so they’ve done a great job.”
So has Woodruff, who allowed one run on six hits in 7 2/3 innings, with six strikeouts and no walks. In an uncannily trying season for a team that hasn’t spent a day under .500 and has been in first or second place since the second week of May, Woodruff remains the stabilizer of a shaky starting rotation. Only eight times in 83 games has Milwaukee’s starter cleared seven innings; Woodruff accounts for five of those. The Brewers are last in the NL with 20 quality starts; Woodruff has authored eight of them.
“He’s definitely a bulldog. He goes out and competes,” Thames said. “It was pretty cool at the end of the game; it was hot, muggy, he’s tired. But he went out there and kept chucking it, kept shoving. That’s what our team needs right now. We need starters to go past the fourth inning and stuff like that. He did it. He’s been doing it all year for us. We’re not surprised. We rely on him.”
The Pirates came out swinging against Woodruff, scoring a run on two hits and a hit by pitch in a first inning that somehow only cost Woodruff nine pitches. The rally ended abruptly when Colin Moran hit an RBI double to right field and Christian Yelich relayed to second baseman Keston Hiura to throw out Josh Bell trying to score from first base on the play.
Woodruff responded with three straight 1-2-3 innings while the Brewers reclaimed the lead.
“It's not just not giving up runs, he's doing it efficiently and getting deep into games,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “That keeps the bullpen fresh, it puts you in a better place for the next day and moving forward. That doesn't show up in the stats, but it's meaningful.”
Said Woodruff: “That play there in the first inning kind of got me going.”
The Brewers still need to get going as a team. Another win Sunday would mean Milwaukee’s first series victory since sweeping Pittsburgh here from June 7-9. The Brewers have lost three series and split two others since then.
“I kind of look back to last year around this time when we were in Pittsburgh and we lost five on the road right before the break. It felt like we were at a low point,” Woodruff said. “I think, throughout the season, you go through some stretches where nothing is going to go right. I think, coming pretty soon, we’ll get on a long stretch of winning.”
Woodruff will find out Sunday whether he needs to alter his plans for the All-Star break. Yelich is already locked in to start the Midsummer Classic for the National League, and Hader, Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal have strong cases to make it as reserves. Woodruff has a case, too.
“You know, it will be a cool honor if it happens,” Woodruff said. “But if not, I’ll definitely take some time to hang out with family and relax and reset.”