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Woodruff vying for Opening Day rotation

Brewers No. 3 prospect battled back from hamstring injury that delayed his MLB debut
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- A milestone came and went so quietly on Tuesday that it nearly went unnoticed.

Brandon Woodruff pitched 1 2/3 innings of the Brewers' 6-3 win over the Reds with Jett Bandy as his catcher. That was supposed to be the battery for the first game of a doubleheader last June 13 in St. Louis, the day Woodruff was to make his Major League debut, only to strain his right hamstring during his pregame warmup.

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PHOENIX -- A milestone came and went so quietly on Tuesday that it nearly went unnoticed.

Brandon Woodruff pitched 1 2/3 innings of the Brewers' 6-3 win over the Reds with Jett Bandy as his catcher. That was supposed to be the battery for the first game of a doubleheader last June 13 in St. Louis, the day Woodruff was to make his Major League debut, only to strain his right hamstring during his pregame warmup.

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"I told [Bandy] today, 'Man, that was our first time together,'" Woodruff said. "I asked him if it was everything he expected it to be."

Woodruff can laugh about it now.

In fact, the whole team had a good laugh about it.

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Woodruff, 25, was called to the front of the room during one of the Brewers' first morning meetings of Spring Training, and with some unsolicited help from Bandy, told the story to the whole team. Some of the players in Brewers camp had never heard it.

It went on the list of the unluckiest injuries in Brewers history, right there with Steve Sparks dislocating his shoulder trying to tear a phone book in half, Matt Wise cutting his finger on a salad tongs and Francisco Rodriguez stepping barefoot on a cactus. Woodruff was in the Busch Stadium outfield doing side-to-side lunges like he'd done thousands of times before when he felt a pop in his hamstring.

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The ill-timed injury would delay his debut by nearly seven weeks.

"I've never had a hamstring injury or a leg injury in my life," Woodruff said. "And it happened at the worst time possible. That's what made it really bad. …

"You're sitting there on the training table getting treatment and you're like, 'I probably just messed up my chance.'"

Woodruff would get a second chance. First, he had to head to Maryvale Baseball Park to rehab the injury.

"The first day my feet hit the ground to jog on the field, I felt a pop again," he said. "Nobody knows about that. I was scared to death. I thought I hurt it again. It turned out to be just scar tissue popping apart.

"Oh my gosh, you talk about having the same feeling I had when I was walking into the dugout in St. Louis. I heard it. I didn't feel pain, I just heard the pop. That scared the crap out of me."

Woodruff built to full health, and, after a stint back at Triple-A Colorado Springs, joined the Brewers on Aug. 4 at Tampa Bay and worked 6 1/3 innings of a 2-0 Brewers win. It was the first of Woodruff's eight late-season starts for the Brewers, during which he went 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA.

Video: MIL@TB: Woodruff hurls 6 1/3 scoreless in MLB debut

"He made eight starts last year, and all of them were what we would all consider really big starts in big moments," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "I think he handled himself well. There were a couple that didn't go the way he wanted, but I know there were a couple games … where he really carried the load for us. I thought it was a great first learning experience for him."

This spring brings another. Woodruff is battling for an Opening Day roster spot for the first time, competing with five others for two spots.

Working in Woodruff's favor is his upside. He's No. 3 on MLB Pipeline's list of the top Brewers prospects. Working against him is the fact that he has Minor League options, a factor that could come into play if the Brewers decide to preserve maximum depth.

"Certainly, when you have options it figures in the decision a little bit, but if Brandon proves he's one of the best five, I think you go with him," Counsell said.

Woodruff is trying to keep his mind free of those questions. All he can do is pitch.

"You try not to think about it," Woodruff said. "Just go out, have fun every day and play the game of baseball."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Brandon Woodruff