Woodruff gets Opening Day nod for Crew

March 18th, 2021

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s official. For the second straight year, right-hander is the Brewers’ choice to take the ball on Opening Day.

Not since Yovani Gallardo set a club record by starting five consecutive Opening Day games -- Ben Sheets started six in all, but they were not successive -- has a Brewers starter worked a season opener in back-to-back years. Woodruff would end that drought when he pitches opposite Kenta Maeda and the Twins on April 1 at American Family Field, and perhaps that would end talk of a Brewers’ “Opening Day curse” stretching back to Kyle Lohse in ’15 and continuing with Wily Peralta, Junior Guerra, Chase Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin.

They all endured disappointing campaigns after getting the Brewers’ Opening Day honor, but after losing a pitchers’ duel with the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks last year, Woodruff managed to put together a healthy, productive and happy 2020 that included the birth of his first child, a daughter named Kyler. Woodruff tied for the Major League lead with 13 starts, and he ranked among National League leaders in average against (fourth, .204), hits per nine innings (fourth, 6.72), WHIP (fifth, 0.99), strikeouts-to-walks ratio (fifth, 5.06), strikeouts (seventh, 91), strikeouts per nine innings (seventh, 11.1) and ERA (ninth, 3.05).

“I always go back and think about how I first started on my pro-ball journey, getting to the big leagues, and then being named Opening Day starter last year was a big deal,” Woodruff said on Thursday. “This year is no different. Any time you can go out and get the ball the first game and try to set the tone for the year, it’s a huge honor. It’s something I don’t take lightly.”

He doesn’t seem to believe in curses.

“I don’t think anybody went along with that curse,” he said. “Fortunately, last [year] went well, and I’m thankful that Craig [Counsell, Milwaukee’s manager] and David [Stearns, Milwaukee’s president of baseball operations] and the front office is allowing me to have the honor of going back out for Opening Day for the second straight year. It’s special. It’s something I don’t take lightly.

“At the same time, it’s the first game of 162, and this first one’s not going to make or break you. It’s definitely a huge honor.”

Said Counsell: “He’s the guy at the front right now. It’s a bit of a ceremonial nod, as much as anything. I think Brandon earned it; that’s the biggest thing. You try to put a guy there that earned it.”

Counsell also announced that Corbin Burnes was scheduled to start the Brewers’ second game of the regular season against the Twins on April 3, but the skipper declined to go past that, saying the club had flexibility built into its plans and would wait until pitchers made their final turn through the spring rotation before setting anything in stone.

At the moment, Brewers starters are lined up like this: Woodruff, Burnes, Adrian Houser and Brett Anderson, then Josh Lindblom and Freddy Peralta on the same day. However they line up, and whether the Brewers employ a five- or six-man rotation, all are expected to start games for Milwaukee as the team manages the jump from 60 regular-season games in 2020 to a 162-game schedule in ’21.

“No final decisions on that yet,” Counsell said. “There’s no reason to make that decision yet. We do have off-days. Let’s get closer, get through the final prep turn and make sure we’re healthy, and make those decisions. We’re going to give ourselves flexibility there. I think most times this year, you will see us stick to five. I don’t think we’ll go below five. We’re more likely to go to six than go below five.”

With Woodruff and Burnes, the Brewers have a homegrown 1-2 punch. Woodruff was Milwaukee’s 11th-round Draft pick in 2014, and Burnes, who rebounded from a miserable 2019 season to finish sixth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting in ’20, was the club’s fourth-round pick in 2016.

“That’s awesome, and, obviously, we’re not the only two homegrown guys,” said Burnes after logging 60 pitches in 3 2/3 innings against the Angels on Thursday. “It’s awesome to have guys who were drafted with the Brewers and stayed with the Brewers and now have a chance to do some special stuff in the big leagues.”

Counsell referred to Woodruff and Burnes as the duo “anchoring” the rotation.

“The fact they were drafted by the Brewers, that tells me how much patience that requires, really," Counsell said. "These two guys have each taken steps every year. That’s the cool thing about it. In Corbin’s case, he went backwards even, had to take a step back.

“But we feel like we’re at a point now where these two guys are at a place to blossom and be great. We’re lucky to have them.”