PHOENIX -- Brandon Woodruff still has the second-lowest run support in baseball, so he helped take matters into his own hands.
The Brewers’ ace delivered his 12th quality start in 15 tries and drove in the game’s only run prior to the seventh inning of a 3-2 win over the D-backs at Chase Field on Wednesday. It earned the Brewers a happy flight home to Milwaukee for a well-deserved day off -- their only break in this stretch of 33 games in 34 days leading to the All-Star break.
So far, so good. Thanks to victories in four of the last five games of this trip to Colorado and Arizona, the Brewers have won nine of the first 16 games in that stretch.
That’s not bad, considering it includes a five-game losing streak.
“It’s huge,” Woodruff said. “It feels like we’ve been on the road for a good month now. … We just have to continue trying to play good baseball and keep putting ourselves in position to win to stay in the thick of things.”
Arizona snapped its 17-game losing streak in Monday’s opener but Milwaukee rebounded to win the series and head into the off-day with sole possession of first place in the National League Central behind two more stellar starting pitching performances from Freddy Peralta and Woodruff, who combined to allow one run on four hits over 13 innings of the next two games.
Next stop, American Family Field in Milwaukee, where the Brewers will play their first game at full capacity on Friday against the Rockies.
“I thought our whole pitching staff did a great job after Brett [Anderson] got hurt on Monday,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, referring to the left-hander’s second-inning exit with a knee injury in the series opener. “The starters carried the big load, as those guys have all year, but everybody on the staff did their jobs in this series and put us in position to get through a tough road trip at the end of a 16-game stretch.”
With 95 innings in the books, after seven more on Wednesday, Woodruff remains on track for one of the greatest pitching seasons in Brewers history. His ERA is 1.89. His 0.76 WHIP is second among MLB’s qualifiers to Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who is also the only qualifier in baseball with a lower opponents’ average than the Brewers’ Peralta (.134) and Woodruff (.153).
Woodruff can hit a little bit, too.
“I’m glad you brought that up,” he deadpanned postgame, doing his best to stifle a smile.
After Jace Peterson doubled leading off the fifth inning and was awarded third after tangling with D-backs shortstop Josh Rojas on a pickoff attempt, Woodruff cashed in with a single to left for a lead the Brewers never relinquished.
It could have been a bigger inning, but Milwaukee was unable to capitalize on more sloppy play from mistake-prone Arizona. Two batters after Woodruff’s hit, Luis Urías reached on an error when first baseman Christan Walker booted a routine ground ball. Then second baseman Josh VanMeter botched a popup into shallow right field, only to be bailed out by the infield fly rule. The inning fizzled after that and the game stayed at 1-0 into the seventh.
“It’s his judgment,” Counsell said of first base umpire Brian O’Nora’s call. “I just thought it was a poor call; it was a mistake. Maybe in traditional baseball, but in the shift world where the second baseman is running from the other side of the bag, it’s not a routine popup. I don’t think he took that into account.”
Close games are nothing new for Woodruff. The Brewers entered the day averaging 2.76 runs per his nine innings on the mound, second-lowest among MLB’s qualifiers for an ERA title. Only Tyler Anderson of the Pirates, who’s been spotted 2.69 runs per nine innings, has worked with a lower margin for error.
But Woodruff has been so good, it’s worked. The Brewers are 11-4 with their Opening Day starter on the mound including the win Wednesday, when he retired nine in a row with five strikeouts to start the game and surrendered only three hits -- Rojas’ single off the glove of diving second baseman Kolten Wong in the fourth inning, Rojas’ single to right field leading off the sixth and Walker’s solo home run in the seventh after the Brewers had tacked on two critical insurance runs.
“I come into the year wanting to be the best,” Woodruff said. “I think that’s everybody’s goal on our staff. They want to be the best pitcher in the league. I think that’s why we’re able to push each other.”
Said Counsell of Woodruff’s latest effort: “It’s seven innings again. It’s every time out.”