The Brewers have placed right-hander Brandon Woodruff on the 15-day IL with a high ankle sprain (retroactive to May 28th), reports Curt Hogg of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Twitter link). The severity of the injury is not yet known, but it will come as a blow to a team already dealing with the long-term absence of Freddy Peralta. Right-handed reliever Peter Strzelecki has been selected from Triple-A Nashville to take his place on the active roster.
Woodruff left in the fifth inning Friday’s game against the Cardinals with what was then termed ’right ankle irritation,’ though it now appears the injury is somewhat more serious. In words that will hardly come as comfort to Brewers fans, manager Craig Counsell described the injury (per Hogg) as “very similar” to Peralta’s, but it isn’t clear if he’ll need as long to “calm [the injury] down” as does his teammate.
Among the best pitchers in the National League since becoming a full-time starter in 2019, Woodruff had gotten off to a comparatively weak start to 2022, posting a 4.74 ERA (against a career mark of 3.36) and 3.82 FIP (career 3.23). The underlying metrics disagree a bit as to the cause. He’s allowed a .315 BABIP this season (against .264 in 2021 and .289 for his career) and 3.8% home run rate (2.5% in 2021 and 2.7% career) — both largely explicable via a rise in hard-hit percentage (the percent of batted balls leaving the bat with an exit velocity of 95 mph or greater) from 32.7% in 2021 (33.9% career) to 42.6% — but his strikeout rate of 28.5% (against 29.8% in 2021 and 28.3% for his career) and walk rate of 7.0% (6.1% in 2021, 6.5% career) remain largely unchanged.
Regardless of the cause of Woodruff’s regression, his absence presents an immediate difficulty for the first-place Brewers. With a rotation anchored by Woodruff, Peralta, and 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes alongside the unheralded but consistently solid Eric Lauer and Adrian Houser at the back end, the Brew Crew entered 2022 with a solid case for the best rotation in the game. Former top prospect Aaron Ashby has already shifted from swingman to rotation to take Peralta’s spot, but it’s less clear who’ll take Woodruff’s turns.
Left-hander Ethan Small — the club’s top pitching prospect since Ashby’s graduation — has already been called up and will likely get the first crack, but he’s less of a proven commodity than Ashby. The 25-year-old Mississippi State product is off to a hot start at Triple-A Nashville, posting a 1.88 ERA in 38 1/3 innings across eight starts, but he’s still a bit green (he’s only logged 136 2/3 innings in the minors) and has had some issues with control. While his 32.5% strikeout rate across those minor league innings is top-notch, his 12.1% walk rate isn’t.
Small is set to make his major league debut today, in the first game of Brewers’ double-header against the Cubs. Should he struggle and Woodruff remain out of action for an extended period, the next option may be 35-year-old Josh Lindblom, who struggled to a 6.39 ERA in 62 combined innings with Milwaukee between 2020 and 2021 but is off to a strong start at Nashville, logging a 2.89 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 46 2/3 innings.
Strzelecki, a 27-year-old former undrafted free agent out of South Florida, has never started a game in the minors and will likely serve back-end cover for the bullpen for the time being. He has, however, been fairly consistent in his minor league career, posting a 3.73 ERA in 156 2/3 innings across all levels, including a 3.80 ERA in 21 1/3 innings at Triple-A. Never a heralded prospect, he’s nonetheless shown the ability to miss bats (with a 31.1% career strikeout rate in the minors) and keep the ball in the zone (7.6% walk rate).