PITTSBURGH (Adam McCalvy/MLB.com) - Brandon Woodruff is joining Milwaukee’s contingent of All-Stars.
The 26-year-old was named a replacement on the National League pitching staff Saturday in place of teammate Josh Hader, who was revealed to be battling back soreness of late. Hader still gets credit for making the squad, so it gives the Brewers a franchise-record five All-Stars for the second straight season, with Hader and Woodruff alongside starting right fielder Christian Yelich and reserves Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas.
Woodruff entered Saturday tied for the NL lead with 10 victories and ranked fifth in strikeouts with 126. He went 10-3 with a 3.67 ERA in 18 starts during the first half, including 8-2 with a 2.98 ERA in his last 13 starts.
“I think Woody has been one of the best pitchers in the game this year,” said Grandal of Woodruff. “He struggled a little bit [at the start], but the way he’s finished the half, it definitely says something about him. Everyone that he throws against tells me the same thing: ‘Thank God I don’t have to face this guy again.’”
Woodruff got the news in a hastily-arranged team meeting Saturday. Initially, he had a hunch it might be related to the All-Star Game, but he was thrown off the scent when Lorenzo Cain, and not manager Craig Counsell, took the floor and talked about the need to finish strong in the first half. Woodruff then assumed it was just a motivational meeting.
At the very end, Cain revealed the real reason for the gathering.
“Sitting here now and becoming an All-Star was something I didn’t think of,” Woodruff said. “The first couple of years, you have a lot of times where you feel like, ‘Man, this game is tough.’ You’re trying to find your way in the big leagues, trying to find out how to get these guys out. Just to be able to put it all together this first half is pretty cool. It’s not something you ever thought would happen, but it did. It’s something you can’t take away.”
His first call Saturday was to his wife Jonie, who will join him in Cleveland. Then he called his parents, Richard and Belinda, who grieved with Brandon after his older brother Blake died in an ATV accident in 2016 when Brandon was pitching at Double-A Biloxi. Blake was five years older, Brandon’s hero, and the reason he loved baseball. Blake was buried on a Monday, and six days later Brandon returned to the mound to pitch six innings and hit a homer in a 1-0 win. That’s when the Brewers, who’d drafted him in the 11th round two years earlier, learned about his toughness.
Woodruff made it to the Majors in 2017 but didn’t gain a foothold until midway through the ‘18 season, when he became a bullpen stalwart for the Brewers. He made a couple of surprise starts in the postseason, hitting a home run off Clayton Kershaw in a Brewers win in Game 1 of last season’s National League Championship Series, and entered this season as one of three young starters -- along with Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta -- chosen for rotation spots.
Of the three, only Woodruff has kept his spot.
“I always dreamed of playing in the big leagues, but then I think last year once I had a good postseason it just gave me a lot of confidence coming into this season that I could pitch at this level,” Woodruff said.
Hader’s injury is not enough to land him on the injured list, but he will skip pitching in the All-Star Game as a precaution. He worked 1 1/3 innings for the Brewers in Friday’s 7-6, 10-inning win over the Pirates.
Hader still plans to attend All-Star festivities in Cleveland, the Brewers said.