It hasn’t been a good week for the Brewers on the injury front (obviously), but they’re on the verge of getting one of their best arms back from the IL, general manager David Stearns tells Adam McCalvy of MLB.com (Twitter link). Right-hander Brandon Woodruff threw to hitters yesterday, and the organization is “very pleased” with how Woodruff looked in that session. Stearns adds that the expectation is that Woodruff will be able to pitch in a big league game “sometime within the next week.”
Woodruff, 26, hasn’t pitched in a game since July 21 due to what is clearly a rather significant oblique strain. He’s been rehabbing for a bit now but won’t have the luxury of ramping back up with a minor league affiliate, so he could be used in short stints his first few times out, McCalvy adds. There’s not much time to build him back up to a full starter’s workload, though perhaps if the Brewers secure a Wild Card spot and advance into divisional play, he’d be an intriguing multi-inning weapon either out of the ’pen or in a truncated (by design) starting capacity.
Prior to landing on the IL, Woodruff had been the Brewers’ most valuable starter. Through 20 trips to the hill and 117 2/3 innings, he’d turned in a 3.75 ERA with averages of 10.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 0.92 HR/9 to go along with a 43.6 percent ground-ball rate. Woodruff’s 11.6 percent swinging-strike rate and 33.5 percent opponents’ chase rate were both improvements over the 2018 campaign, as was his 96.2 mph average fastball velocity.
Fielding-independent metrics and Statcast both loved Woodruff’s work on the mound as well. He logged a 3.09 FIP and 3.46 xFIP while generally excelling at limiting hard contact. Woodruff’s average opponents’ exit velocity was in the 93rd percentile among big league hurlers at just 85.7 mph, and only five percent of MLB starters limited opponents in terms of barreled-ball rate.
The Brewers have rattled off six consecutive wins and suddenly find themselves tied with the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot in the National League. Not only that, they’re just four games back of the Cardinals for the NL Central lead and have a three-game series in St. Louis set to begin tomorrow. It doesn’t sound like Woodruff will factor prominently into that series, but his looming return is all the more important to the Brewers now that they’re squarely back in both the Wild Card and division races with 17 games to play.