Now under the junior righthander's preceding circumstances just standing atop the Dudy Noble Field mound for a game, even a practice game, is pretty exciting. But being handed the first starting stint, in the first scrimmage was that much more exhilarating. Equally, it indicated what the Bulldog coaching staff has in mind for his 2014 season.
So yeah, all aspects considered, Woodruff was free to call it wonderful. It has been a long, very long time since he was able to load-up and let-go on the hill. Since mid-April of 2013 to be exact, when a troublesome elbow finally demanded surgery. Nine months of careful—or as Coach John Cohen described it "very deliberate"—recovery later Woodruff wants to stay a starter. In real games.
"I'm ready to go. It's just getting better each week and trying to be 110% by the time the season starts."
Woodruff's return-trail has been tracked by coaches, teammates, and fans alike which is a measure of just how much hope is being invested here. The potential is certainly there, more than his 2013 statistics recount; 1-1 with a 4.34 ERA in seven games with six starts. All his appearances came in mid-week work, but Woodruff seemed right on the verge of a rotation job when he threw 6.0 starting innings with one run and four strikeouts at South Alabama.
A week later he didn't get out of the second inning; all the effort in Mobile accelerated the elbow's breakdown. And in the long run that was a good thing as the knife was going to be needed at some point anyway. The sooner, the better, and Woodruff's timing was good enough that he ought be ready by opening weekend of 2014. Certainly so by SEC season.
He wasn't even assured of throwing at all last fall. Fortunately delaying practices a week allowed enough time to get Woodruff in late. And As Cohen said back in December, "His last three outings of the fall were just phenomenal, so it was very much worth the wait."
Now the winter-wait is over and preseason underway. Woodruff wasn't exceptional in his first scrimmage to be fair. He allowed a run on two hits, one of them a scratch single by Alex Detz which short-hopped too sharply for the shortstop to handle. The other was a line-drive single by Wes Rea, nothing to be ashamed of either; and the RBI was on a comebacker which one-hopped into Woodruff's knee.
It was a scary moment yet the pitcher still hustled to get an out at first base. "I had kind of a little bad situation getting hit on the knee but I felt fine. I just had to tough it out." He added there were no aftereffects, he was 100%. Oh yes, and "Wonderful" too.
"I'm not lying. It's felt good ever since I had surgery." Meaning the elbow of course, which carries so much expectation for the coming campaign. As to what he didn't execute Saturday, Woodruff--who goes by his childhood nickname of 'Dino'--knows what to work on before his next scrimmage assignment. What he did well was locate, catching the low zone just as pitching coach Butch Thompson asks.
"That's one thing I really wanted to do today. I didn't pitch with my fastball as much as I wanted to but other than that I think everything went pretty good."
Saturday catching went pretty good as well, another encouraging sign. With both backstops graduated a quartet of candidates are contending. Woodruff got to throw to Zack Randolph this time, with Gavin Collins taking over for the Grays later as scheduled and receiving from other pitchers. Daniel Garner and Cody Walker split catching for the Blacks today.
"They're good," reports Woodruff. "Randolph has had an extra year but those guys that have come in are starting to pick up our system and what we want to do. They're going to be really good."
The Diamond Dogs are back on the field Sunday with a 1:30 scrimmage, open to the public as always.