After Alex Wood settled down Tuesday and started pitching the way he and the Braves knew he could, his teammates made sure they provided plenty of run support for the rookie left-hander in his first win in the majors.
Freddie Freeman hit two home runs, and Brian McCann had a three-run homer in a six-run fourth inning that sent the Braves and Wood to an 11-3 win against the Rockies at Turner Field, extending their winning streak to five games and widening their National League East lead to 10 games over second-place Washington.
Wood (1-2) gave up six hits and three runs in seven innings of his third big-league start, with one walk and seven strikeouts.
“After the first couple of innings I settled down,” Wood said, “and me and Mac kind of took control and we were clicking throughout the rest of the game. It definitely felt good to go out there and do that (win a major league start) for the first time. It was exciting for me.”
After allowing three runs, three hits and a walk in the first two innings, he gave up only three hits in his last five innings and finished with 67 strikes in 99 pitches. Wood might also have soothed the nerves, at least a bit, of some Braves fans concerned about the state of the starting rotation since Tim Hudson suffered a season-ending broken ankle last week.
“He settled down and started throwing all of his pitches,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves improved their majors-best home record to 36-15, including 5-0 on this seven-game homestand. “He did a nice job. I think the more we run him out there, the more comfortable he’s going to get.”
Freeman continued to wreck Rockies pitching, hitting a solo homer in the first and a three-run shot in the seventh. That gave him 10 homers and 23 RBIs in 20 career games (78 at-bats) against the Rockies. It matches the 10 homers he’s hit against the Mets for his high against any team — and he has nearly 100 more at-bats against the Mets (174).
“I do look up there and see my career numbers against (the Rockies), but I don’t know what it is,” Freeman said.
He credited his two homers to an adjustment made in his swing during batting practice Tuesday, after hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant Scott Fletcher showed him video of his swing in recent days compared to when he’s going well.
Rookie outfielder Todd Cunningham, just up from Triple-A Gwinnett in his first call-up, singled in his first major league at-bat in the seventh inning and was on base when Freeman homered.
After Nolan Arenado hit a two-run, two-out homer in the second inning to give the Rockies a 3-1 lead, Wood recorded 16 outs in the last 17 batters he faced.
“We got ahead of them and then he just settled down,” Freeman said. “He was moving in and out. He gave us seven strong innings tonight, and to get his first career win is pretty awesome.”
The cuticle of Wood’s left index finger split open again, like in his first major league start, but he said trainers took care of it between innings and it wasn’t a problem the rest of the way. The action of his spiked curveball causes friction that occasionally cracks the skin.
Gonzalez said McCann and pitching coach Roger McDowell told Wood after the early innings that he needed to use changeup more, just to keep hitters off-balance. The former University of Georgia standout took their advice and got the results they hoped for.
“He went to his change-up and starting pounding the fastball in,” Gonzalez said, “and then later on it was a nice sign he came back to the curveball. It was a nice outing for him.
“He was nails. For a night that we needed some (innings) from our starter, for a young pitcher to be able to do that, that’s nice growth right there for him. And for him to earn his first win, that’s nice also.”
Wood induced double-play grounder from Arenado after Todd Helton’s leadoff single in the fifth and got a big defensive assist from shortstop Andrelton Simmons in the seventh, when Michael Cuddyer singled with one out and tried to score on Wilin Rosario’s double to center field.
Center fielder Jason Heyward threw to the cutoff man Simmons, who fired a strike to the plate to cut down Cuddyer.
After Justin Upton’s RBI double in the third, the Braves trailed 3-2 entering the fourth inning. Then they whacked Rockies starter Juan Nicasio with a six-run inning that turned a one-run deficit into an 8-3 Braves lead.
In Monday’s series opener, the Braves scored six runs in the third inning to turn a five-run deficit into a 6-5 lead in a game they eventually won 9-8 in 10 innings.
“We’re definitely capable of doing that at any point in time,” second baseman Dan Uggla said. “It’s about being more consistent.”
Nicasio (6-5) was 2-0 with a 0.47 ERA and .129 opponents’ average in his past three starts before Tuesday, having allowed just eight hits, one run and four walks in 19 innings during that stretch. That included seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball at Dodger Stadium on July 12.
The Braves racked up 10 hits and eight runs in four innings against the right-hander, who fell to 0-3 with a 9.81 ERA in four career starts against Atlanta.
Uggla led off the fourth inning with a double, advanced to third on Wood’s ground out and scored the tying run on Heyward’s two-out ground-ball single up the middle. Upton followed Heyward with a double that bounced over the right-field wall, taking a would-be run off the board because Heyward had to return to third base.
With first base open, the Rockies wanted no part of Freeman, whose .432 average with runners in scoring position was the third-highest in the majors before Tuesday. Nicasio intentionally walked Freeman to load the bases for Evan Gattis, who made him pay by lining a single to left field to drive in two runs for a 5-3 lead.
Three pitches later, McCann launched a three-run homer over the right-center fence for an 8-3 lead. The veteran catcher has hit .354 with 15 extra-base hits (seven homers) and 21 RBIs in his past 26 games, and has 14 homers in 63 games this season after missing the first five weeks recovering from shoulder surgery.
All six Braves runs in the fourth inning came with two out. Freeman’s first-inning homer also came with two outs.
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