'Blinders are on': Woodruff brilliant vs. Padres

May 25th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- If Brandon Woodruff peeked at the scoreboard in the middle innings on Monday night, he might have noticed some unfamiliar, crooked numbers along the Brewers’ line score.

Those were runs.

The Brewers finally scored him some runs.

Woodruff still has the worst run support in the Majors after the Brewers spotted him a five-run lead, but he’s leading the way in ERA after dazzling over seven innings in a 5-3 win over the Padres at American Family Field.

When Josh Hader cleaned up a ninth-inning mess to remain a perfect 11-for-11 in save chances, it gave the Brewers their first three-game winning streak in more than three weeks and ended San Diego’s winning spree at nine games, cooling the team that entered the day with the best record in baseball. The Padres averaged 7.3 runs per game during their streak, but they were held scoreless until the ninth inning on Monday after Woodruff allowed three singles and no walks while striking out eight and delivering his ninth consecutive quality start.

“This is brilliance, really,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He gets in this mode, and it’s like the blinders are on when he’s out there. He can’t be distracted at all. …

“You get a starter like Woody some runs, it feels really good, for sure. But he’s done this, whatever the situation. That’s what I’m referring to with the blinders. He’s got them on and is going up and attacking hitters, putting zeros up. What we have in our score column is almost irrelevant to him.”

Support came from catcher Manny Piña’s two-run home run in the second inning that sailed a Statcast-projected 426 feet. Avisaíl García launched a 456-foot solo shot in the fourth, and Kolten Wong, the only left-handed hitter besides Woodruff in the lineup against Padres left-hander Blake Snell, made it a three-run fourth inning when he delivered a two-strike, two-out, two-run single that knocked Snell from the game after getting only 14 outs.

“Looking back on it now, that’s the ballgame,” Woodruff said.  

For Woodruff, that represented a bona fide scoring barrage. The Brewers had scored one run total during the 22 innings Woodruff pitched over his previous three starts, and they hadn’t scored more than two runs while he was on the mound in any of his first nine starts this season. His run support per nine innings was 1.58 entering the day, lowest of any qualifying starter in MLB. Now it’s 2.11, still lowest among qualifiers but inching closer to the next pitcher on the list, the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright at 2.14 runs of support per nine.

“I’ve heard,” Woodruff said, smiling. “I think you guys mentioned it last time. It is what it is. Like I said before, this game is hard. It’s hard to score runs, especially these days. I just try to go out and pitch deep into the games and stay out there as long as I can. Whether that’s a 0-0 ballgame or 10-0 ballgame, it’s not going to change the way I try to go out and do my job.”

Woodruff doesn’t need much support. His ERA through 10 starts is 1.41, which is the lowest among MLB’s qualifying starters and is second best in Brewers history through a pitcher’s first 10 appearances of a season when they’re all starts. Cal Eldred has sat atop that list since he posted a 1.26 ERA following a midseason callup in 1992. 

In two starts against San Diego this season, Woodruff has allowed one run on four singles and three walks over 13 innings with 15 strikeouts. Three of those hits belong to Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth. The only other Padres hit off Woodruff this year was Fernando Tatis Jr.’s opposite-field single in the first inning on Monday, which left his bat at 86.8 mph and rolled through the right side of the Brewers’ shifted infield. 

“Woodruff settled in, and he got stronger,” Padres manager Jace Tingler said. “You look up, and there's a reason Woodruff's got a 1.40 or whatever ERA. We're not the only guys he's been really dominant with.” 

It continued a stretch of dominance. Since allowing three earned runs in four innings against the Twins on Opening Day, Woodruff has a 1.05 ERA and has held opponents to a .125 average in nine consecutive quality starts.

“It's very fun to catch Woody when he controls the ball like that,” Piña said. “The other team, they look frustrated. They don't know what they are going to [get from] him. They're waiting for his fastball, he threw a changeup. They are waiting for a breaking ball, he throws a fastball. … The confidence he has right now on the mound is unbelievable. Everything I put down, he says ‘yes’, and he controls the pitch.”