MARYVALE — Last week, Jimmy Nelson sat in a chair and watched as the rest of the Brewers pitching staff began its first live bullpen session of the spring. The Milwaukee ace couldn’t help but grow increasingly fixated on Brandon Woodruff.
Nelson, still on the mend from offseason shoulder surgery, is staying involved in whatever way he can until fully healthy, even if only by imparting words of wisdom. Nelson allowed enough reps to go by before finally approaching Woodruff, then making a suggestion to the right-hander about his delivery.
“He was just reminding me to get my lower half more (steady) and just stay over top of the rubber with my backside a lot longer, and just use it and really drive,” Woodruff said Monday. “It helps keep the pitches more consistent.”
Woodruff heeded Nelson’s advice and implemented the adjustment during his next live bullpen. Pleased with a successful result, he tried it again during his first live spring training action of the year when he faced six Angels batters on Saturday. He struck out two, needing only 12 pitches to get through an inning.
“All my pitches were consistent, and I threw a lot of strikes,” Woodruff said of the outing. “So (Nelson’s advice) definitely helped out, and it’s something to definitely keep working with.”
Woodruff, 25, has tweaked his delivery before. In 2016, while with Double-A Biloxi, he sped it up, getting his hands to be more in sync. His latest adjustment grants him even further control of his pitches.
“I think as pitchers, we’re always kind of evolving,” Woodruff said. “Just trying to figure out stuff that works for us.”
Brewers manager Craig Counsell acknowledges Woodruff is just scratching the surface of his potential. This year marks the first time Woodruff has opened spring with the big league club, a chance well-earned after his major league debut last season.
The 6-foot-4, 228-pounder officially debuted in August and impressed from the get-go. He compiled 32 strikeouts in 43 innings and posted a 4.81 ERA across eight starts, three of which were quality outings.
Counsell said Woodruff, whose first big league starts came as Milwaukee contended in the thick of the National League playoff race last year, carried the load in meaningful spots. It’s a reason why the manager said he’s in the mix for one of two open starting-rotation roles.
“If Brandon proves he’s one of the best five, I think you go with him,” Counsell said.
There’s much to like about Woodruff’s game.
Nelson noted his size and power. Counsell lauded his confidence in his fastball, the strength of his three-pitch arsenal that currently includes a slider and changeup.
“He’s just got plus-stuff all across the board,” Nelson said. “He’s just gonna get better really. He showed us what he had with his stuff last year, and he’s gonna really refine his command. He’s gonna be a force for sure.”
In an effort to reach his potential, Woodruff is taking in as much as he can from veteran pitching staff members, such as Nelson, Yovani Gallardo, Chase Anderson and Zach Davies.
“If they’ve got something to suggest, you definitely listen,” Woodruff said. “You try to put it into practice.”
Lessons learned in tandem with experience on the field is proving instrumental to helping Woodruff grow more comfortable on the field. His goal for this season is to prove himself a dependable option.
“I think that’s the main thing,” Woodruff said. “To build off the experiences you had the year before and just try to get better and stay more consistent.”
Counsell concurs with the sentiment, adding that Woodruff is a key reason he thinks the Brewers boast a deep pitching staff.
“I think, like anything, it’s just consistency for Brandon,” Counsell said. “We know there’s places to go.”