FORT MYERS, Fla. – Alex Wood never tried to act too cool to get excited pitching in the big leagues as a rookie, and the Braves left-hander didn’t try to downplay his performance against the Red Sox and David Ortiz on Friday at sold-out JetBlue Park at Fenway South.
“I definitely felt pretty darn good today,” Wood said after allowing two hits – singles by Grady Sizemore – in three scoreless innings of a 4-1 Braves loss. “I really felt like my rhythm and timing of everything was so fluid today, like it was the middle of the season for me. Had all three (pitches) working. Whenever I can do that I usually have a pretty good day.”
Wood, who is competing with Freddy Garcia for a spot in the starting rotation, fired 28 strikes in 39 pitches and had no walks and two strikeouts, including Ortiz looking with a runner at first and one out in the first inning. The kid froze the veteran Red Sox designated hitter with a knee-buckling breaking ball for strike 3.
“I threw him some good fastballs in and out early, and I ended up throwing him a really good breaking ball,” Wood said. “That wasn’t the only good one I threw today; if anything, I was probably most excited about that. I was able to throw my breaking ball consistently for strikes. If I can continue to do that it’s going to be really huge for me.”
After Sizemore led off the first inning with an infield single, Wood retired the next eight batters, including strikeouts of Ortiz and former Braves catcher David Ross.
“He gets excited, and he competes,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s a bulldog on the mound. We saw that last year in Washington, I believe that was the game when he got a little excited and got himself ejected at the end. But he’s a guy that likes to compete. He pounds the strike zone, and he just keeps giving you good outings after good outings.”
Following the Sizemore leadoff hit, Wood got Dustin Pedroia on a flyout and Mike Napoli on a pop-up to end the first inning inning. But it was the Ortiz at-bat between those two outs that surprised many in the Red Sox crowd, most of whom were probably unfamiliar with Wood, a former University of Georgia standout and second-round pick in the 2012 draft.
“You could feel Big Papi’s presence when he got in the box,” Wood said, smiling. “He kind of has that swagger about him. He just gets in the box and it’s like, well damn, that’s Big Papi. He’s such a great hitter and he’s done so many great things. So it was pretty neat to throw to him and Pedroia and some of those other guys.”
Wood and Garcia have each made two starts and pitched five scoreless innings with no walks. Garcia has been perfect in his innings and has five strikeouts, while Wood has been charged with five hits and has four strikeouts. Garcia has faced the Tigers and Mets, while Wood has faced the Tigers and Red Sox.
Wood had a 3.13 ERA in 31 games (11 starts) as a rookie, including 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in five starts. A reporter asked if his success last season made him more comfortable in his second major league spring training.
“It’s funny you ask, I was just thinking about that to myself,” he said. “No, today I was still a little nervous. But I think it’s good. Good nerves. It keeps you on your toes. It’s not just the atmosphere down here and going against the defending world champions, it’s just the competition within the organization.”
He also said he wasn’t surprised by how well he threw his breaking ball so early in spring training.
“Not necessarily,” he said. “Pretty much as soon as I started throwing this winter, I’ve been working on it. It’s nice to kind of see it come to fruition a little bit today. I’m just going to keep working at it.”