Woodruff puts up stellar outing in first start off IL

August 6th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- took the mound for the Brewers for the first time in four months on Sunday at American Family Field against the Pirates.

After pausing briefly behind the mound, Woodruff stepped on the rubber and fired a 94 mph sinker for a strike to Pittsburgh’s leadoff batter Josh Palacios. The right-hander went on to strike out Palacios on eight pitches, then struck out Connor Joe looking and got Alfonso Rivas to swing and miss at a 97 mph four-seam fastball to end the inning.

Woodruff then walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 33,000-plus.

The moment had been a long time coming for Woodruff, who hadn’t pitched for the Brewers since April 7 against the Cardinals when he experienced shoulder tightness. A subsequent MRI exam showed that the hurler had a sub-scapular muscle strain that would require a lengthy rehab stint.

“Honestly, today was more emotional than I thought it was going to be,” Woodruff said after the Brewers' 4-1 loss to the Pirates. “I think I did a good job of holding it in internally. When you haven’t pitched in four months, you miss it, and you miss going out and competing with all these guys and kind of being in the middle of things.”

Sleep didn’t come easy for Woodruff as his mind raced about his long-awaited return.

“I couldn’t really sleep this morning. I woke up a few times,” he said. “More excited than anything. Just like everybody else, I get nervous and anxious. Honestly, I was just ready to get out on the field and feel the stadium and the crowd and finally get on the mound.”

Although much of the attention was on Woodruff, the Brewers struggled to generate any offense against Pirates starter Johan Oviedo (6-11), who limited Milwaukee to two hits, both belonging to William Contreras, over seven scoreless innings. Contreras was credited with a double with two outs in the sixth but was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a triple. Oviedo had six strikeouts and three walks.

The Pirates gained a split of the four-game series. The Brewers (60-53) hold a 1 1/2-game lead over the Reds and Cubs in the NL Central standings.

The loss, although disappointing as the offense came up short again, was tempered by Woodruff’s return and productive outing.

On Sunday, Woodruff (1-1) struck out five consecutive batters to start the game. He retired the first six batters before giving up a leadoff homer to Endy Rodríguez in the third, then closed the inning with two more strikeouts.

Woodruff surrendered another leadoff homer in the fourth to Joe. Rivas followed with a double, but Woodruff retired the next three batters, which included a strikeout of Ke’Bryan Hayes to end the inning.

“I’m going to throw a lot of fastballs and I was able to command it early on and get to some good spots and was fortunately able to get some strikeouts,” he said.

After keeping the Pirates off the board in the fifth, Woodruff’s day was complete. His final line showed four hits and two earned runs in five innings with nine strikeouts and no walks. He threw 85 pitches, 61 for strikes.

“I thought it was a good first step for Woody for sure,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I think there’s a lot to be happy about. It probably wasn’t midseason form with some small things, but he felt good. He got good results.”

Woodruff entered with a 9-1 record and a 2.23 ERA over his previous 20 starts dating back to last season.

As they make a push for the playoffs, the Brewers have been looking to solidify their rotation and the return of Woodruff is as big as it gets. His return came a day after a strong start by 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes.

“We’re close to the rotation that we set out on during the offseason. That’s a good sign,” Counsell said.

Woodruff credited Colin Rea, who was optioned to Triple-A Nashville on Saturday, and Julio Teheran, who is on the injured list with a right hip impingement, for their work in the rotation during his absence.

“Those two guys have really held this whole thing together,” Woodruff said. “I’m not saying I’m any saving grace or anything, but it’s finally nice to have a full, healthy rotation.”

Relievers Hoby Milner and Abner Uribe followed Woodruff on Sunday, each pitching a scoreless inning, but J.C. Mejía gave up a two-run, pinch-hit home run to Bryan Reynolds with one out in the eighth to leave the Brewers facing a four-run deficit.

The Brewers pushed across a run in the ninth on Hayes’ throwing error, which allowed Contreras, who had walked and reached base for the third time, to score.