As versatile a piece as Alex Wood was for the Braves as a rookie last season, and with wily veteran Freddy Garcia gunning to beat him out for the fifth starter’s spot, the Braves still plan to give Wood every chance to claim that role in the rotation.
Granted, Wood would give the Braves another left-hander in the bullpen along with Luis Avilan. And in relief, the Braves could monitor his innings more easily in what is only his second season in the majors and third in professional baseball. But the way it boils down at the start of camp? Braves general manager Frank Wren envisions Wood in the rotation.
“I look at Wood as a starter,” Wren said. “I don’t look at him as anything other than a starter. Now that may change in the future, but for now I think that’s how we’re going to approach it.”
Wood took his first step toward that end Sunday, pitching two scoreless innings against the Tigers in his first start of spring. He gave up three singles, but nothing hit especially hard, and he used two double plays to prevent any damage. He hit a batter, but also struck out two, the last on a 94 mph fastball to get Jordan Lennerton swinging.
“Alex had all three pitches going, and he’s such a good competitor,” Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca, who managed the split-squad game at home against Detroit, while Fredi Gonzalez managed against the Astros in Kissimmee. “I don’t care if it’s the first game of spring training or a postseason game, he’s going to give you everything he’s got, and that’s one of the things you like about him.”
Part of what has made Wood, 23, so good so young is his understated confidence. Some of that was reflected in his comments Sunday when he said matter-of-factly: “There aren’t many things that I’ve tried to do in my baseball career that I haven’t been able to achieve.” He sees earning a rotation spot as a “realistic goal,” and rightly so.
But overall, the 2012 second-round pick out of the University of Georgia is trying to keep his old Bulldog mentality: Nothing has been promised to him this spring, not even a roster spot.
“I don’t know if you would call it a chip on your shoulder, but I’m coming in here trying to win a job, plain and simple,” Wood said. “Nothing has been given to me. They haven’t told me anything. So I’m just coming in here every day and trying to win a job.”
Wood isn’t concerning himself with whether that means as a reliever or starter, and what it would mean for his pitch count. Frankly, neither are the Braves. Wren said the Braves could monitor his innings as needed, skipping an occasional turn in the fifth starter’s spot, but his innings count is not their biggest concern.
“I think the bigger issue is what’s his future role,” Wren said. “And what’s most important for his development and our pitching staff, how we put it all together.”
The Braves will have to take into account the fact that Garcia has an opt-out clause in his minor league deal that grants him free agency if he doesn’t make the major league club out of spring training. The Braves value his veteran leadership and his proven big-game ability. If there’s not an injury to a starter, and Wood claims the starter’s job, Garcia could end up in the bullpen at the start of the season.
“I think we just play it out,” Wren said. “Those things always seem to work out, and we have basically the next 30 days to figure it out. We’ve got a lot of different contingencies, guys staying healthy, guys getting healthy, guys being ready when the bell rings. I think we’ve just got to stay open and flexible. I think in Garcia’s case we’re really glad that we have him.”
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