Alex Wood loves coming home, though he hopes Thursday brings more luck than his last start against the Braves.
Wood, one of the Dodgers’ six All-Stars, takes the mound against Sean Newcomb in the finale of a three-game set between the Braves and Dodgers. The winner takes the season series.
The Braves tagged Wood for nine runs in their last meeting, July 21 in Los Angeles. Wood was 11-0 with a 1.56 ERA before that catastrophe.
“Well, I haven’t done too good so far (against Atlanta),” Wood said. “Hopefully I’ll figure them out on Thursday. But it’s always fun coming back. They’ve got a great staff over there, still a lot of guys left that I’m friends with. So it’s always fun coming back to Atlanta, and then also when they come to L.A. seeing them, getting to talk and catch up. It’s been a lot of fun.”
A former University of Georgia star, Wood played for the Braves from 2013-15 before he was dealt to the Dodgers in a package for supposed slugger Hector Olivera. Olivera wouldn’t contribute in Atlanta, while Wood’s developed into the Dodgers’ No. 1b ace, as opposed to Clayton Kershaw’s 1a.
“It was definitely pretty difficult for me when it happened,” Wood said. “Blindsided a little bit. At the same time, you know, everything happens for a reason. We’re all where we’re supposed to be at any point in time, so I feel thankful to have been with two great organizations. With the talent that we have on our team right now, with where we’re hopefully going towards October and maybe into November, I’m excited. I feel fortunate for the opportunities.”
Reliever Luis Avilan was packaged with Wood to L.A. He doesn’t have any extra motivation in Atlanta, and regardless of Thursday’s showing, Wood’s success hasn’t caught him off-guard.
“He’s always been really good since he made his debut with the Braves,” Avilan said. “He’s always been good. I haven’t seen him at times struggle or something like that. It doesn’t surprise me at all what he’s been doing this year.”
But Wood’s success this season has taken everyone by surprise. He owns a 2.38 ERA, thickly placed in the National League Cy Young race. Wood wasn’t even slotted as one of the Dodgers’ five starters out of spring training. He made a spot start against the Cubs when Rich Hill went on the disabled list, then took it from there.
“It started to kind of click my last six or seven starts before I got hurt last year,” Wood said. “I worked on a few more things this offseason and I mean, from onset of spring training I felt my stuff’s the best it’s been in my career. I felt that way all spring. And I just waited for my opportunity. I’ve been feeling pretty good so hopefully I’ll keep it up down the stretch and get ready for the playoffs.”
Dodgers’ rookie sensation Cody Bellinger admires the way Wood carries himself.
“Maybe,” Bellinger said of Wood’s potential extra motivation. “I think he’s going to keep doing what he’s been doing all year. What’s helped him stay successful, I don’t think he’s going to change it. From a guy that was questionable in the rotation, I don’t know what the story was, but he’s been really great and consistent. And he works fast so that’s nice.”
In the Braves dugout, there’s high praise for Wood. He admits he still follows the Braves, and his friend Freddie Freeman has taken note of Wood’s campaign.
“It’s been incredible,” Freeman said. “I wish we still had him. I’m just happy for him. You can see the great stuff. You know he’s got a weird delivery that’s very deceptive. He’s a good, good guy. So I’m happy that he’s flourishing in L.A. on the big stage.”
In a season of memorable feats on a 75-32 team, the All-Star game may have been the most special.
“One of the coolest experiences of my life,” Wood said. “The whole ordeal is just incredible. It’s so tough to be an All-Star in the MLB. It’s not like other All-Stars, NBA, some of those other ones. Players vote, commissioner’s office votes, fans vote position players. But it was surreal. Just getting to be around, it’s like its own fraternity. That level of talent, being around all those guys that you play against. You start to form more personable relationships with some of the guys you play against a lot throughout the year. It was really great. … It was definitely a special experience that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
Wood has two teammates, his college roommate and catcher Kyle Farmer, and reliever Josh Fields, who also hail from UGA. He’s glad to have them around as football season approaches, but he’s especially to have them join him on a season he hopes ends with a World Series title.
“We haven’t done much losing, so it’s always fun when you’re winning a lot of games,” Wood said. “It’s hard to believe it’s August, the dog days, but you just have to finish strong and keep playing the baseball that we’ve been playing and we’ll be in good shape.”