Woodruff matched Burnes’ excellence for a second straight start on Wednesday, holding the Pirates hitless for five innings and scoreless through the sixth in a 4-2 Brewers win. Milwaukee finished off a three-game sweep and a 5-2 opening homestand at American Family Field that began with a Woodruff win and ended with one, too.
“We’ve done this now for a couple of years,” Burnes said back in Spring Training. “We’re always going to have this friendly competition of going back and forth and trying to one-up each other. If we can go back and forth, back and forth, all season, it’s going to be a good season.”
So much for the worry about a shaky season debut for each of the Brewers’ co-aces. Burnes and Woodruff combined to allow 10 earned runs on 10 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings in Milwaukee’s opening series against the Cubs, but in two starts apiece since then, they’ve combined to hold the Orioles, Cardinals and Pirates to two earned runs on 11 hits in 25 high-quality innings, with four walks and 29 strikeouts.
Of those four combined starts, three have been scoreless outings, including each of Woodruff’s starts on the homestand. Against the Pirates on Wednesday afternoon, he didn’t allow a baserunner until Daniel Vogelbach walked to lead off the fourth inning and didn’t allow a hit until Vogelbach blooped a single to center field with one out in the sixth.
Not bad for a day on which Woodruff wasn’t feeling his best.
“Warming up in the bullpen before the game, I was a little worried,” he said. “It was like, ‘Man, it’s not good today.’ You just get in the game and go from there. You figure it out.”
“The thing with Woody is there are no free pitches for them,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Every pitch, they had to work to even earn a ball because they were right there. And his fastball was very, very good today throughout the whole game. It was getting on the hitter. Every one was 95 [mph] and getting on the hitter.”
When Vogelbach broke up the no-hit bid, Woodruff said he shot his former teammate a dirty look. So, the Brewers’ bid to throw a no-hitter in front of their home fans continues. They’ve thrown two on the road — Juan Nieves in 1987 in Baltimore, plus Burnes and Josh Hader’s combined no-no last season in Cleveland — but never at home.
You can bet that Burnes and Woodruff are itching to be the first to do it.
“We do try to stick to our own process of how we do things,” Woodruff said. “It’s not that I’m oblivious to what he’s doing the day before, but it’s a thing where I don’t think about, ‘Hey, I have to go out here and strike out 10 people and put up seven zeroes.’ That’s not how I approach the day. But you take from what he did the day before, see what he did well, and apply it to today.
“Yeah, you want to keep the line moving, and I know Freddy [Peralta] is watching and he’s going to want to keep the line moving, too. I think that’s what made us good last year. Everybody wanted to fall right in line and do the best we can on our day, and whatever happens, happens. Yeah, we want to do better than each other. It’s a healthy push.”
While Burnes and Woodruff settle into their seasons, Brewers hitters are doing the same. They came into this series with five home runs in the team’s first 10 games, then hit five more homers in three games against the Pirates. Two came from Rowdy Tellez, who went deep on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday for the game’s only run until Keston Hiura hammered a critical three-run homer in the seventh to give Milwaukee some breathing room.
One of the other homers in the series came from Hunter Renfroe, his first as a Brewer, about a week after the veteran outfielder cautioned against drawing conclusions too early, the way he witnessed last year when he was with the Red Sox.
“Pushing the panic button was real there,” Renfroe said. “I was like, ‘We’re good.’ And the same thing here. We’re good. We’re just heating up. The weather’s gonna heat up, the Brewers are gonna heat up. Our pitching staff is doing a great job.”
Added catcher Omar Narváez: “They’re doing a lot better location-wise. They’re going to be really good.”