MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers added an All-Star starting pitcher to the postseason chase on Tuesday night. Brandon Woodruff looked ready.
Woodruff’s first pitch back after nearly two months on the injured list with a left oblique strain was a 97 mph fastball. His second pitch was 98 mph. And two pitches after that, the right-hander touched 99 mph on the way to the first of his four strikeouts in two hitless innings during Milwaukee’s 3-1 win over the San Diego Padres at Miller Park.
“Just getting him back on the mound was the big thing,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
Lorenzo Cain homered leading off the bottom of the third inning and Mike Moustakas snapped a 1-1 tie with a home run leading off the bottom of the seventh for the Brewers, who have victories in 11 of their last 12 games and 14 of 17.
The Brewers (82-69) climbed within two games of the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central standings and pulled into a tie with the Chicago Cubs for the league’s second wild card berth.
Milwaukee’s originally scheduled starter, left-hander Gio Gonzalez, took over at the start of the third inning after Woodruff threw 37 pitches, 23 for strikes, in his first game of any kind since July 21. The only hitters he had faced since then were teammates. Woodruff threw a couple of simulated innings last week at Marlins Park in his next-to-last tuneup for his return.
“It was the type of injury where you can’t throw with intent for quite a while. I think we’re still building that back up,” Counsell said. “We didn’t get the mound time that you ideally would like to have, but, look, we’re in September. We need to get him going. He’s ready to get going. So we’ll do it.
“The goal is to put him in a good place going into October. A place where he can have a great October. I think that’s possible.”
The idea, Counsell said, is to build Woodruff’s pitch count in two remaining regular-season starts. Woodruff could add 15-20 pitches per outing, and be somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 pitches by the end of the month.
Woodruff was in the middle of a breakout season before he got hurt. He entered Tuesday 11-3 with a 3.75 ERA in his first 20 starts; the team entered the day 16-4 when he takes the mound.
Milwaukee also welcomed back slugging rookie second baseman Keston Hiura (strained left hamstring) to the starting lineup. He had only pinch hit twice since being reinstated from the 10-day injured list Sept. 11.
And catcher Manny Piña (mild concussion) was cleared to play by the doctors from MLB. He's been out since taking a foul tip off his mask Sept. 5th.
Moustakas' homer was his 35th of the season.
"Moustakas, he's always coming up with big homers," Cain said. "I've been seeing it for a long time now, especially back in our KC days. He has the power. He always hits 20, 30 homers every single year. So, I don't expect anything less. He's definitely been huge for us all year long."
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Counsell likes how everybody is contributing during this late-season charge.
"We're doing our jobs," he said. "You feel like if we post a good record, a good game every day for these last 11-12, we'll find ourselves in a pretty good spot."
Moustakas teed off on a 1-2 pitch from reliever Matt Strahm (5-9) in the bottom of the seventh after Hunter Renfroe's 32nd home run in the top of the inning tied the score at 1-1.
"It's a big moment because we kind of lose the momentum a little bit with the game tied and everybody pitching so well," Counsell said. "But, he took it right back, I thought, and it's a huge spot."
Renfroe, who had missed nine games with a sprained left ankle, connected off Matt Albers (8-5) and spoiled the six scoreless innings crafted by Woodruff, Gonzalez, who allowed two hits and struck out four over the third, fourth and fifth, and Brent Suter, who retired the side in order in the sixth, striking out two.
Drew Pomeranz struck out the side in the eighth and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save in as many chances.
"I didn't think I was going to go back out there a second inning," he said. "I gave it all I had the first inning (the 8th) and came back in. He (Counsell) said, 'Keep going.' My focus is getting outs. So, it was three more outs."
Ben Gamel scored on Trent Grisham's sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Padres rookie right-hander Chris Paddack made his 26th start of the season and first against the Brewers. He allowed one hit, Cain's solo shot in the third, walked one and struck out nine in five innings.
Paddack knew he made a mistake on the pitch to Cain.
"One pitch I'd take back was the Cain at-bat," Paddack said. "I just kind of got away from myself. We were trying to stay stubborn, and I just made a mistake. I left that fastball right over the middle. He already saw six before that and it's hard to blow 94 (mph) by a veteran hitter like that."
The Padres matched a season-high with their sixth straight loss.
Manny Machado had an infield single and Paddack added a base hit.
Brewers right-hander Adrian Houser (6-6, 3.84) makes his second appearance and first start against the Padres this season. He tossed 3⅓ scoreless innings in relief on June 19th at Petco Park.
Padres right-hander Dinelson Lamet (2-5, 4.06) makes his second career start against the Brewers today. He’s allowed no more than three earned runs in 10 of his 12 previous starts this season.