Rookie Wood excited about second Braves start

When Alex Wood makes his second major league start against the Mets on Thursday, there are a couple of reasons the Braves rookie expects things to feel more normal than when he started the first game of a June 18 doubleheader, also against the Mets.

For one, there won’t be a load of ticket requests to fill or dozens of family members and friends from the University of Georgia in the crowd, cheering like crazy for the former Bulldogs left-hander.

“Not this time,” Wood said Wednesday, after arriving from Triple-A Gwinnett to fill in for the injured Paul Maholm in Thursday’s series finale at Citi Field. “A few buddies I played with in college, up here in the summer league, they’re coming today (Wednesday), and a guy I played high school ball with, he’s working up here, and he’ll be here tomorrow. But that’s it. Nothing crazy like the first time.

“I’m kind of glad it’s on the road, just so I won’t have to deal with all that stuff. But at the same time, you’re sent down and you’re sent back up, so you get all the same texts that you got the first time you went up. People are excited for you. Hopefully it’ll start to calm down eventually, but it’s definitely nice to be on the road and not have to worry about that side of things.”

The other factor is the routine. When Wood, 22, faced the Mets in the June 18 doubleheader, it was a spot start three weeks after his last start in Double-A. He had pitched only in relief — a new role for him — for the major league team in the interim, making six appearances and topping out at 36 pitches.

Wood threw 73 pitches in three innings in that start against the Mets, allowing two hits, one run and three walks with five strikeouts.

This time, he’ll be coming off a start last Thursday for Gwinnett, when he threw 71 pitches in five innings, allowing three hits, one run and two walks with five strikeouts.

“I expect him to have a better start than he had his first start against the Mets,” Gonzalez said. “I expect him to be a little more comfortable doing it. I don’t know our expectations as far as pitches or innings. We’ll play it by ear. Hopefully he gets us deep in the ballgame. He had 71 pitches last time in Triple-A, so we could push it to 90 if we want to.”

Before last week’s start at Gwinnett, Wood’s last outing was an impressive relief appearance against Cincinnati on July 12, when he threw 56 pitches in 3 2/3 hitless innings with one walk and three strikeouts.

The Braves decided after that to send him back to the minors and let him get stretched out again to start because he has a good chance to be in next year’s starting rotation, and they wanted to have depth this season in case of injury or trade.

That long relief appearance and his start at Gwinnett has Wood approaching Thursday’s start feeling like he did when he was starting earlier this season for Double-A Mississippi, where he had a 1.26 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 57 innings.

“I’m coming off a start last week, so my preparation in-between is a lot more similar to how it was when I was in Double-A, and from that standpoint it’s definitely going to be a big help,” he said.

Looking ahead: Maholm has a sprained left wrist and will miss three starts before he's eligible to return Aug. 5. Gonzalez said it wasn't certain who would take Maholm's next turn, but it'll be Wood or Brandon Beachy, who's 13 months removed from Tommy John elbow surgery and made what was possibly his last rehab start Wednesday for Gwinnett.

“If he doesn’t need another (rehab start), then we’ll make that decision for him to come here, absolutely,” Gonzalez said.

If the Braves have decided how they will fit Beachy into the pitching staff, they won’t say. With Maholm injured and having posted a 10-plus ERA during a three-start losing skid, it’s highly unlikely he would be traded anytime soon.

Gonzalez also said Maholm’s lack of relief experience made it unlikely he would be considered for the bullpen. There’s been speculation that Kris Medlen could be moved to the bullpen to open a spot. There’s also the possibility that Beachy could pitch in relief, which he did quite well in the minors

Asked if Wood was auditioning for a rotation spot, Gonzalez said, “No, he’s just pitching. Pitching until Pauley gets back. But it’s always good to do well, you know?”

Schafer update: Three weeks into his recovery from a stress fracture in his right ankle, outfielder Jordan Schafer has begun taking some swings and throwing, and he could be cleared to start running and taking live batting practice by the weekend. Gonzalez said Schafer got a good report when he returned to Atlanta for a checkup.

There’s no timetable for his return, but Schafer will go on a minor league rehab assignment when he’s back to full activities.