Brandon Woodruff’s budding Major League career has been interrupted again.
His 2019 breakout season with the Milwaukee Brewers was derailed by an oblique injury suffered in July, just a few weeks after pitching in the All-Star game.
Woodruff, a former Wheeler High School and Mississippi State standout, returned two months later but logged just four innings in two outings. He finished the season with an 11-3 record and 3.62 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 121 2/3 innings.
Despite the injury, Woodruff’s first full season in the bigs showed he belonged as a starting pitcher.
“What got me to that point last year was 2018. Pitching in the playoffs and that September leading into the playoffs in 2018 really gave me the confidence to go out and know that I could do it at the highest level and do it in some big situations,” Woodruff said. “I carried that over to last year and got on a good roll.”
Woodruff made four relief appearances in the 2018 playoffs, allowing just two earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. He had 12 career starts coming into last season, when he became a regular part of the Brewers’ rotation.
Woodruff logged 22 starts in 2019. He was 10-3 entering the All-Star break and very pleased with how things were going. Then it got even better.
Just before the break, when the Brewers were in Pittsburgh, center fielder Lorenzo Cain gathered the team for a pep talk, then announced that a first-time All-Star was in their midst: Woodruff.
“I was trying to get ready to plan for an All-Star break and have a few days, but that quickly changed,” Woodruff said. “My wife had to fly out to Cleveland and meet me there and bring a suit. It was a pretty cool moment.”
Woodruff faced three batters in the game, allowing one run and recording two outs.
All was well until July 20, when he suffered a left oblique strain against Arizona. Woodruff is fully recovered from that injury, but he hasn’t pitched a regular-season game since September because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 27-year-old is doing his best to stay in shape.
Woodruff, who lives in Saltillo, has been working out with Chris Stratton, a Tupelo native who pitches for the Pirates. He also has a throwing partner in his wife, Jonie, who is six months pregnant.
“During the week when I’m not going out too long, I’ll throw with her,” Woodruff said. “But me and Chris Stratton have been getting together and throwing bullpens together. On days I need to long toss and stuff, we’ll get together.”
The shutdown has of course been frustrating for Woodruff, especially considering how well everything came together last year. He was having a strong spring training – a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings before play was halted.
“It’s a little frustrating, because you kind of figure out the type of pitcher you are, you figure out what works for you,” he said. “And then coming into the season I was in a pretty good spot in spring training where I had all my stuff working pretty well. I had maybe one or two more outings before the spring was up, and then all this happened.
“That’s been the difficult part as far as getting prepared for the season and being pretty much fully prepared and then having to shut everything down.”
Woodruff said he is “fairly optimistic” there will be some sort of baseball season.
“I think we’ll know when the right time is to play, if that happens,” he said. “You want to keep everybody involved safe. … I think MLB and our players union will know when a good time is and try to move forward from there.”