Brewers: Brandon Woodruff ties career high in strikeouts, is he back on track?

It’s not secret that Brandon Woodruff entered the 2020 season expecting to be the Brewers ace, but he’s struggled to live up to it so far.

Prior to Woodruff’s latest start on Friday against the Cubs, his season ERA sat at 3.91 and the Brewers starter admitted to being frustrated with his past few starts. On Friday night, he certainly showed us ace-like material by tying a career high in strikeouts (12) in seven innings. Does this mean Brandon Woodruff is back on track?

Prior to the game on Friday night in an interview, Brandon Woodruff stated that he was just going to keep going the current course rather than start making changes.  The 2020 Brandon Woodruff course vs the 2019 Brandon Woodruff course has shown us a slight decrease in his fastball use (35% in 2020 vs 38% in 2019), increased sinker usage (29% vs 25%), and decreased slider usage (12% vs 19%).

With throwing less sliders, he has increased his changeup usage in 2020, which was suppose to be the key to allowing Woodruff to work deeper into games this year as he faces a lineup for a third or fourth time.  While the changeup has been a good pitch for him in 2020 by inducing whiffs 35% of the time, he also has allowed two of his six home runs off the changeup and hitters are slugging .475 against it, which is by far the highest of all his pitches.

During Friday’s start vs the Cubs, Woodruff had a clear game plan early on.  He was throwing fastballs inside to right handed batters and worked his off-speed pitches away.  He continued to attack batters with 19 out of the 26 batters he faced started off with a strike. By being consistently around and in the strike zone, Woodruff got the benefit of the doubt on many borderline calls and later in the game really capitalized on attacking the outside corner with his fastball.

Woodruff’s fastball is what did most of the damage vs the Cubs.  Of his 12 strikeouts, eight of them came via the fastball that includes the last four strikeouts of the night.  In the 7th inning, he struck out the side courtesy of the fastball, two Cubs went down looking, one swinging.

Even more encouraging, Woodruff had great command of all his pitches in his last start.  He did generate two strikeouts off his curveball and one off of his slider.  His ability to rely on any pitch really kept hitters off balance.

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While this is just one start and the deepest Woodruff has worked into a game all year, this is an encouraging sign. With 2.5 weeks left in the regular season, the Brewers are going to need Brandon Woodruff to be an ace from here on out if they want to make a push into the playoffs.