Road to Recovery
The Brewers have been patient with Woodruff’s rehabilitation process, especially since his injury was not a minor one. After throwing a few successful bullpen sessions at the beginning of June, he began his rehab assignment. His first appearance wasn’t until July 22 with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in High A, and the original plan was to ease him back to the workload of a major league starter. This meant three to five rehab starts, with five days of rest in between.
He was excellent in Wisconsin, making two starts for seven total innings and posting a 1.29 ERA. His velocity hovered around the 95-96 mph range, the same heat he had before the injury, an optimistic sign. Furthermore, he was able to safely get his pitch count to 52 in his final start with the Timber Rattlers.
He made just one start at AAA with the Nashville Sounds, and started strong, but he saw some deterioration in pitch quality in the last two innings of his start. He was able to touch 97 mph with his fastball, but will likely need more time to refine his command and reestablish his stamina. Over 4 2/3 innings, he gave up three earned runs.
While it hasn’t yet been solidified whether the Brewers are satisfied with this single showing at Triple A, chances are they would like to see one (or maybe two) more starts in the minor leagues to ensure that he has the necessary stamina to perform as a quality starter at the major-league level.
What Should We Expect Upon His Return to the Rotation?
In an ideal world, we should expect Brandon Woodruff to return to the major-league team as if nothing happened. He’d be the same workhorse, with an ERA around 3.00 and a dangerous follow-up to Corbin Burnes in the rotation. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for pitchers to return from long injury stints with a few pieces missing (remember when Noah Syndergaard was averaging 98.7 mph on his fastball instead of the 92.7 mph he’s averaging now?).
As mentioned earlier, Woodruff’s velocity is definitely back to where it was before, but whether he’s able to maintain that velocity into the later innings of his starts may be called into question. His pitch arsenal may also change to better fit his recovery process. In the past, he depended primarily on his four-seam fastball and his sinker, but over the past few years he’s started to utilize the changeup and slider slightly more, leaning on the former as his main put-away pitch in 2022. If he sees decreased spin rates and a subsequent increase in hanging breaking balls, he may rely more heavily on pure velocity.
Unfortunately for Woodruff, he doesn’t have a ton of time to get back to work. With just over 50 games left in the regular-season schedule and the Cincinnati Reds atop the NL Central by 0.5 games, Woodruff returning to form sooner rather than later could be the difference between a postseason spot and watching the playoffs from home.
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