Woodford 'in control,' impresses out of 'pen

Righty tosses 5 1/3 scoreless innings in relief after Kim’s short start

September 5th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- The Cardinals slotted Kwang Hyun Kim back into the rotation fully aware of his limitations to date this season, ones which were simply exacerbated by his bout with left elbow inflammation. He’s struggled to work deep into games, not only faltering in late innings but rarely being given the chance to work as far. That reality was his own doing on Saturday night.

But where Kim struggled in a 4-0 loss to the Brewers at American Family Field, Jake Woodford thrived.

In relief of Kim, Woodford tossed 5 1/3 shutout innings, most remarkably pitching out of the stretch just once. His first baserunner was erased immediately, after Dylan Carlson cut down Eduardo Escobar trying to stretch a single into a double. And his second was handled with similar ease, with Woodford picking off Willy Adames at first base in the fifth inning.

All told, it was arguably the best outing of Woodford’s young Major League career: two hits, no walks and five strikeouts.

“I think that was our best we've seen him,” said manager Mike Shildt, “and just carried on what he was doing in Triple-A. He made a lot of quality pitches, and I liked his tempo, liked his competitive spirit. He was in control of what he's doing and did a fantastic job.”

What Woodford did in the macro was keep his club in a game they likely didn’t deserve to be in, outhit 9-3 a night after bashing six homers and 15 runs -- their highest single-game output of the season.

But they ran into Adrian Houser, who threw the first shutout by a Brewer since Sept. 2014, falling one pitch short of a “Maddux.”

Houser, also remarkably, threw 25 first-pitch strikes to the 29 batters he faced on the night, 19 of which were called strikes. He struck out seven, overloading the zone with 76 of his 100 pitches.

“Momentum can still go over the next day, but a good start can stifle it,” Shildt said. “Early on, you could tell the kid was locating in what he was doing. He threw a hell of a game, you tip your hat to the guy. He threw a really good game against a really good lineup and made a lot of quality pitches. Didn’t look like he gave us anything in the middle or anything anybody could put a consistent swing on.”

That the Cardinals were merely competitive against Houser was thanks in large part to Woodford.

The 24-year-old former first-round pick was sent back to Triple-A Memphis at the end of June to set him back on a starter’s workload. There, he said he wasn’t trying to necessarily change anything but rather refined his comfort and his pitches.

It showed in large part on Saturday.

After Kim threw far too many balls in the middle of the zone, Shildt said, ending his night after 43 pitches, seven hits and four runs, Woodford came in for his first outing out of the bullpen since June 27. For that at-bat, he was handed former NL MVP Christian Yelich.

No worries. Woodford struck Yelich out swinging and proceeded to face the minimum over his next 16 batters -- an accomplishment thanks to one of two outfield assists on the evening that led off the third inning alongside Woodford’s first career pickoff in the fifth.

“I just try and show up every day and get better, but right now, it's trying to win,” Woodford said. “There’s no real sugarcoating it, I'm here part of the team trying to win. We're trying to make a push right now and, and honestly, that's all I'm really concerned about.”

To that end, Woodford doesn’t simply have any boxes to check off before the end of the season. He’s here, back with St. Louis, to try and help his club compete for the second spot in the NL Wild Card race.

He did it two-fold on Saturday night -- keeping the Cardinals alive in a game they were dominated and saving his bullpen for what might be needed against NL Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes in Sunday’s finale.

"He set us up to give us a chance today to compete, but he also, eating those innings, allowed us to save our bullpen and be able to compete moving forward,” Shildt said. “That was a [heck of an] outing by Jake."