With their bullpen depleted by season-ending elbow injuries to left-handers Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty and taxed after covering seven innings behind Kris Medlen Wednesday night, the Braves have called on left-handed prospect Alex Wood.
Wood, the Braves second-round pick last year out of the University of Georgia, has been recalled from Double-A Mississippi and is expected to join the Braves’ bullpen Thursday in Atlanta.
Braves general manager Frank Wren said when O’Flaherty went on the disabled list two weeks ago the Braves had no immediate plans to call on Wood, saying they didn’t want to disrupt his development. But circumstances changed Wednesday night when Medlen left his start after only two innings with a left calf contusion.
The Braves went to a six-man bullpen two weeks ago when Jason Heyward returned from the disabled list, right around the same time an MRI revealed O’Flaherty’s ligament tear. They have managed going short in the bullpen without much issue since then, despite enduring three extra-inning games, one suspended game, and four rain delays.
But Wednesday’s game changed that and when asked afterward if the Braves would be able to continue with a six-man bullpen, manager Fredi Gonzalez sighed and said: “I don’t know. We’re going to sit here and talk about it a little bit and see what we can do.”
It’s not yet clear how the Braves will make room for Wood on the roster or if it means they will go back to carrying seven relievers – they’ll make a corresponding move Thursday. But it’s clear Gonzalez has gotten a young arm he’s been high on since spring training.
Wood, 22, impressed with his 93-95 mph fastball while allowing only one earned run in seven relief appearances with the major league club in spring training.
An unorthodox delivery probably kept Wood out of the first round of last year’s draft, but it hasn’t hindered his progress with the Braves. He was 4-2 with a 1.26 ERA in his first 10 starts for Double-A Mississippi this season, allowing two or fewer earned runs in nine of his 10 starts and three earned runs in the other. He was holding opponents to a .195 batting average, while striking out 57 in 57 innings and walking 15.
This is after Wood went 4-3 with a 2.22 ERA in 13 starts for Single-A Rome in his first professional season last year, with 52 strikeouts and 14 walks in 52 2/3 innings.
Wood was originally scheduled to start Thursday night for Double-A Mississippi against Montgomery. Instead he’ll board a plane Thursday morning bound for Atlanta and his first taste of the major leagues.
If the Braves decide to go to seven relievers, they’ll have to make a tough roster decision they’ve been delaying since it became clear they needed to keep rookie catcher Evan Gattis in the major leagues after Brian McCann returned from offseason shoulder surgery.
They prefer not to trade veteran bench players Gerald Laird and Reed Johnson. Jordan Schafer and Juan Francisco are both out of options, as is Ramiro Pena, the Braves’ primary backup in the middle infield. That means they’d have to go through waivers if they were sent to the minor leagues.
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