Just six days after Gavin Floyd fractured his elbow, the Braves showed why they didn’t flinch – because they still had Alex Wood in their back pocket.
On the same day Floyd underwent surgery to have screws inserted in his elbow, Wood rejoined the Braves rotation and pitched like he’d never left. He dominated the Astros for seven shutout innings to lead the Braves to a 4-0 win.
Justin Upton stepped into his spotlight long enough to hit a majestic two-run home run in the seventh, his second at Minute Maid Park in as many days, for his 16th of the season and a little extra cushion for Wood, who’d held a 1-0 lead since the second.
“He filled up the zone and made pitches when he needed to, got out of some situations, so he did a great job,” said Upton, who drove in three of the Braves’ four runs and made a diving catch behind Wood in the seventh. “He’s one of those guys we can count on when he takes the ball…Gavin was pitching well for us. To not miss a beat with Alex coming back is definitely a luxury.”
Freddie Freeman put the only damper on Wood’s night when he left in the eighth inning after being hit in the right elbow by a Darin Downs fastball. He was more fortunate than Floyd, though, and avoided any fractures in the tip of his elbow.
X-rays weren’t necessary, and Freeman was hopeful by leaving the game early to ice, he had a chance to be back in the lineup for Thursday’s afternoon game.
Freeman had played every inning in the field for the Braves all season before Chris Johnson moved over from third base to replace him in the eighth.
When Freeman got hit, the Braves had just manufactured their second run of the game in the eighth inning, taking a 4-0 lead on a Tommy La Stella RBI groundout. Those runs – starting with an Evan Gattis double and Justin Upton sacrifice in the second - complemented the latest Upton power surge. A night after going off the top of the left field façade, Upton sent a pitch careening the other way into the Astros bullpen in right center.
“I had just said (to Gattis) ‘Put it in the bleachers’ a couple pitches before and then he went and did it, so I was pretty excited about it,” said Wood, now 6-6 with a 3.07 ERA. “That was a big home run for sure, a 1-0 ballgame, anything can happen, especially on the road.”
Shea Simmons and Juan Jaime combined with Wood to throw the Braves 10th shutout of the season, which is second in the National League to the Cardinals’ 15.
Wood had originally been scheduled to make at least three or four minor league starts to stretch back out from the six weeks he spent in the Braves bullpen. But he was called back up to pitch in place of Floyd after only two starts in Triple-A. He had to continue stretching out the hard way – keeping his pitch count down so that manager Fredi Gonzalez wouldn’t come for the ball.
Wood needed only 49 pitches get through five innings, and 66 through six. When Gonzalez finally told him that was enough, Wood was at only 79 pitches through seven innings.
“His pitch count was perfect,” Gonzalez said. “The ups and downs (between innings) is what we were worried about. The most he’s gotten up is five innings, so he went seven. He did a nice job, mixed all his pitches, his breaking ball, his fastball, and threw some nice changeups.”
Wood coaxed nine groundball outs and four flyball outs to keep his pitch count down. He had been gunning for a quality start and did better than that – pitching seven shutout innings, allowing only three hits, one walk and striking out four.
“The biggest thing for me was getting my changeup back,” said Wood, who’d focused on that in Gwinnett. “I thought it was probably the best it’s been all year and also just getting my rhythm back, my mechanics, and really my fastball command. I felt really good and hopefully I’ll build off of tonight.”
Wood gave up a double to Dexter Fowler two pitches into the game and wouldn’t allow another runner to reach base until Jon Singleton doubled to center with two outs in the fourth. Singleton’s ball went all the way up Tal’s hill in center field and lodged under the fence, forcing him to go back to second base. He was stranded there after Wood got Matt Dominguez to ground out.
Wood showed a familiar competitive edge on the mound that’s served him well in his first two seasons in the major leagues. This time it was fueled by the sense Wood had that he needed to prove himself again, after being sent to the minors to stretch out.
“It was probably good for me to go down there and get a feel for everything again,” Wood said. “At the same time, it’s hard because no matter what the situation is when you go down, when you come back, it’s like you have to prove yourself all over again. At least that’s the way I look at it. You’ve been in the minor leagues. You haven’t done anything lately up here. You have to come back up and you have to perform and then hopefully you string a few good ones together.”
Minute Maid Park is supposed to be a hitter’s park. Wednesday night it belonged to the pitchers for much of the night.
The name Collin McHugh might not ring a bell, but it should. Not only is he from Lilburn, went to high school at Providence Christian, and got drafted out of Berry College. He came into Wednesday night’s start leading the American League with a .192 opponents’ batting average. He showed his hometown team why.
Evan Gattis doubled on a ball down the line just past third base and the Braves manufactured a 1-0 lead on a Justin Upton sacrifice fly. McHugh wouldn’t allow another run until Upton’s connected on his a 3-1 slider in the seventh. He struck out nine batters in the meantime, in his first ever start against his hometown team.
McHugh had faced the Braves once in relief during his cup of coffee with the Mets, in Sept. 30, 2012, giving up two runs in an inning.
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