Mississippi Braves manager Aaron Holbert called a team meeting Wednesday. His Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves had lost four games in a row. He talked for about five minutes about what had gone wrong.
Then, all of a sudden, Holbert turned to left-handed pitcher, Alex Wood, who had been his best pitcher this season.
“Oh, yeah, by the way, Wood ...” Holbert said. “You’re going to Atlanta tomorrow.”
Wood’s jaw dropped. He was perhaps in a momentary shock.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Wood said. “It was pretty awesome.”
His teammates then all congratulated Wood.
“It was a pretty neat way for him to do that,” Wood said. “It was special to share that moment with the rest of my teammates.”
And then Wood took off for Turner Field. The Braves need him, even though a year ago he had just finished a season pitching at Foley Field for the Georgia Bulldogs. But less than a year after he was drafted in the second round, Wood is now a Braves reliever.
He hasn’t relieved much in his baseball life. He’d occasionally pitch in relief in high school, two days after he would make a start, and Wood had two outings out of the pen for Georgia in three years.
“It’s relatively new,” Wood said. “I’m just talking to these guys to see how they go about their business. It’s different because you can pitch two or three days in a row. You have to be in that zone every night that you’re out there in the bullpen.”
The injuries to Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty made Wood necessary in Atlanta. The Braves had gone with an 11-man bullpen long enough, and they desperately needed another lefty to compliment Luis Avilan.
Two weeks ago, the Braves front office resisted the notion of bring Wood to Atlanta. But Braves officials could no longer ignore his success. He had a 1.26 earned run average in his 10 starts in Mississippi this season, with 57 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched. That was after the fine work Wood did in Low-A Rome last season, when he had a 2.22 ERA in 13 games, with 52 strikeouts in 52.2 innings pitched.
It was obvious at big league camp in spring training that Wood was close, but an improved breaking ball was the difference in making him ready for the jump to the majors.
“My last two or three starts, I started getting that feel to where I could start commanding it,” Wood said. “You want to be able to command all your pitches. I’m able to command my fastball and change. I’m to the point now where I’m getting really, really close to where I feel like I can command that breaking ball and put it where I want it, which is pretty big for me.’
It’ll be really big for him coming out of the bullpen, especially as Wood faces left-handed hitters. But his herky-jerky delivery might be his biggest advantage.
“You don’t really see many guys throw like I do, so that’s definitely an advantage to me,” Wood said. “It’s not common. Hopefully that’ll help me the first couple of outings where I’m facing these guys for the first time.”
It’s been a whirlwind 12 months for Wood. He has gone from a college baseball star to a draft pick, and he is now an important piece for a team that will try to win a World Series.
“It’s amazing what a year will bring, that’s for sure, especially this past year for me,” he said. “I’m as much excited to see what the next year brings. I think I’m ready.”
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