MILWAUKEE -- Brandon Woodruff covered his face when the tears came. This was not the way a promising postseason was supposed to begin for the Brewers.
Milwaukee's vaunted pitching staff took a massive hit on Monday, as it was revealed that Woodruff has a right shoulder injury and will not pitch in the National League Wild Card Series. Manager Craig Counsell said Woodruff's availability for potential future series is "up in the air."
"It just popped up at the wrong time," Woodruff said, fighting a losing battle with his emotions. "It sucks, man. We've got a good clubhouse, and I want to be a part of that. Sitting here now, I may not. That’s the hard part. But we’ve got a good group, and I think we’ll be fine.
"I’ll be right in the middle of it."
Woodruff dealt with inflammation behind the same shoulder in April after just two starts and wound up missing four months with a subscapular strain. He returned in early August and was as good as ever, going 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA in eight starts from his Aug. 6 return through Sept. 17, a stretch that included the Brewers' first complete-game shutout in more than two years on Sept. 11 against the Marlins. But in a rematch in Miami on Sept. 23, there were signs of trouble.
Pitching the night after the Brewers clinched a postseason berth, when one more victory would clinch the NL Central, Woodruff allowed four runs on six hits in five innings. He worked with such diminished velocity that it drew a mound visit from the athletic trainer. Woodruff insisted he felt fine and chalked it up to bad mechanics.
Woodruff threw 60 pitches in live batting practice on Friday in lieu of one more start, and he said while the session wasn't exceptional, it went to plan. It was when Woodruff played catch on Sunday prior to the Brewers' regular-season finale that he knew something wasn't right.
"It was a very similar feeling to what I was having [in April] before I had that MRI that showed the first injury," Woodruff said. "I spoke up immediately and basically went in and told them what I was feeling."
The Brewers' hopes for a deep postseason run ride on their pitching and defense. The "Big Three" starters -- Burnes, Woodruff and Freddy Peralta -- are complemented by veteran left-hander Wade Miley as a very capable No. 4. Options to start games in subsequent series lead with Adrian Houser and Colin Rea.
With Woodruff down, Milwaukee was forced to not only reconsider its plans for a 26-man Wild Card Series roster, but also who would start Game 2 on Wednesday night. The deadline to set rosters is 10 a.m. local time prior to each series' opening game. Beyond those baseball decisions, however, was a deep sense of disappointment for one of the Brewers' longest-tenured players.
Woodruff was Milwaukee's 11th-round Draft pick in 2014 and beat the odds by not only making it to the Majors in '17, but by making the NL All-Star team in '19 and '21.
"Super tough," Brewers GM Matt Arnold said. "I feel bad for [Woodruff], first and foremost. I know how hard he has worked to be in this situation, and he wants to be part of this. And he still is part of it. He's just going to have to do that in a different way."
Said Counsell: "We've got really good pitching. We feel good about how we're going to get through this series with a lot of guys on the mound. Giving the ball to Corbin [in Game 1] is as good a feeling as you can have."
Without Woodruff, Counsell said the decision about who would start Game 2 against the D-backs would depend on a variety of factors, including whether the Brewers won or lost Game 1 and how much they used the bullpen. Peralta, like Woodruff, skipped his final regular-season start, but that was driven by rest and not by any health concern, Counsell said.
The D-backs, meanwhile, have their versions of Burnes and Peralta -- Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly -- lined up for Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3.
"I know it's probably heartbreaking for [Woodruff], his team, this organization, because of what he means to this team," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "You always want your competitor's best, so if you do happen to march on, you can say that you did beat their best. But I know the Brewers have some very capable pitchers to step into that next level and those next roles.
"The common thought is to exhale and say, 'Well, Woodruff isn't starting.' We're not going to fall for that. They've got very capable replacements, and they're well run. 'Couns' is going to find the best guys go out there and help them win a baseball game."
That plan starts with Burnes.
"It's tough to have one of your better arms go down," Burnes said. "Obviously, we don't know the extent of what's going on or how long he's going to be out, but it means it's an opportunity for another guy to step up, fill his shoes and do what they can to replicate what he would do out there on the mound.
"We've got plenty of depth in the starting rotation. We've got guys who will be able to step in and give us a chance to win. That's what's going to happen. That's what we're going to have to do."
That was the story for much of the regular season after Woodruff went down in early April. Peralta, limited last season by his own right shoulder injury, delivered a 3.86 ERA in a career-high 165 2/3 innings. Miley had a 3.14 ERA over 120 1/3 innings in the Majors in 23 starts. And Rea's 124 2/3 innings in 26 games (22 starts) were -- in many ways -- the surprise of the year for the Brewers. He finished with a 4.55 ERA.
“This time of the year is about being resilient and overcoming adversity. We’ve had to do that all year," Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. "There were stretches we didn’t have Woody for an extended part of the season. Obviously, he’s a great pitcher and he can take over games on his own, but we still have a very talented team. At this point, it’s about staying together, staying connected.
"He was pitching one game for us. And not to understate his value or what he brings to our team, because it’s immense, but we have a lot of other talented guys in the clubhouse. It’s about stepping up and seeing what we can do.”