Atlanta’s Alex Wood has a 3.52 ERA in six relief appearances this season.
ATLANTA — Less than three weeks after he was called up to help a short-handed Braves bullpen, left-hander Alex Wood will get his first major league start today to help the Braves cover their doubleheader against the Mets.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez announced after Sunday’s game that the rookie would start the first game of a split-doubleheader against the Mets. Wood will pitch the 1:10 p.m. game against Mets rookie phenom Matt Harvey, who is second in the National League in ERA (2.04) and strikeouts (102).
That just adds to the anticipation for Wood, the Braves’ second round draft pick last year out of the University of Georgia.
“I’m excited,” said Wood, who has made six relief appearances since his May 30 call-up. “(Starting) is a little more up my alley, something I’ve been doing forever. It’s definitely exciting to have the opportunity. Hopefully I can go out there and capitalize and have a good day. It means I get to go against Matt Harvey, so that should be pretty fun. I like a challenge.”
Wood will be making a spot start in place of Brandon Beachy, who was on the cusp of making his return from Tommy John surgery when he felt elbow discomfort in his final minor league rehabilitation start. Beachy was diagnosed with inflammation in his right elbow and an MRI revealed nothing structurally wrong. It’s considered a minor setback, and Beachy will begin throwing again once his elbow feels better.
For Wood, this continues a whirlwind three weeks which has seen him get called up from Double-A Mississippi to help the Braves accommodate for the losses of left-handed set-up men Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty to season-ending elbow operations. Wood has appeared in six games, allowing three earned runs in 7 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts and four walks.
Wood has been a starter throughout his career, including his first 10 outings in Double-A Mississippi this season where he went 4-2 with a 1.26 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 57 innings. Wood figures his familiarity with the role, coupled with the fact that he’s already gotten his first taste of the majors should help.
“Starting, I know exactly what I want to do when I go out there from start to finish and kind of adapt based on what happens in the game,” Wood said. “...It’s still a learning experience for me out of the pen. I’m excited. I’m ready to get the first start under my belt. It’s definitely a plus that I’ve been out there already for sure.”
Wood made his last start for Mississippi on May 25, going seven innings, allowing one run, in a win over Mobile. He’s confident he can go fairly deep in the game.
“Being in the pen is a different kind of in shape, but at the same time I’ve been starting for two months,” Wood said. “It’s not one of those things where I’ll probably be able to go nine, but my pitch count is enough to where I can go out there and hopefully get five, six innings, somewhere around there.”
Gonzalez said they won’t go in with a specific pitch count. And he’ll have some added depth in the bullpen because the Braves will call up a reliever from the minor leagues to use as a 26th man. That’s a rule Major League Baseball implemented last year so teams can add one player to their roster for doubleheader.
“We’ll take it an inning at a time, but he’s a guy that throws the ball over the plate,” Gonzalez said. “It hasn’t been that long since his last start.”
Freeman: I’m hitting because I’m healthy
ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman’s second walk-off hit of the season Saturday was further evidence of the dominant work he’s done in the clutch this season.
Entering Sunday, he was third in the National League with a .406 batting average in close-and-late situations, going 13-for-32, and matched Evan Gattis for the team lead in game-winning RBI (six). Freeman was second in the NL only to Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran in batting average with runners in scoring position, hitting .446 (25-of-56).
Freeman has also been the Braves most consistent hitter across the board. Entering Sunday’s series finale with the Giants, he was leading the Braves in batting average (.312), RBI (45), hits (67) and on-base percentage (.370).
Ask Freeman what’s been going right this season and he’ll simply point to good health.
“I was battling a lot of things last year and this year I finally have everything under control,” said Freeman, who spent two weeks in April on the disabled list with an oblique strain but said it’s completely healed. “It’s just a nice feeling that I can go out there and have confidence in my ability and not have to worry about something hurting if I do something wrong. I haven’t really had that since I’ve been in the big leagues.”
Freeman said he dealt with nagging knee and wrist problems in his first season-plus in the majors. Then last year he dealt with both vision problems due to dry eyes and an injured index finger which he hurt getting hit by a Jose Reyes throw sliding into second base in Miami in June.
“I couldn’t even bend it until Christmas,” Freeman said.
He didn’t wear contacts for three months in the offseason to let his eyes heal. Now he puts drops in 10 minutes before putting in his contacts for a game. Freeman wears clear glasses at first base to protect his eyes from wind and debris. He doesn’t wear them at the plate because he doesn’t like seeing the nose piece in his peripheral vision. But he’s been able to manage his contacts with drops and changing to new pairs when needed.
He knew he was in good shape when he got through the Colorado series in April, his first action coming off the DL, without any issues. The dry air and wind at Coors Field is where his problems first cropped up last season.
“That took a weight off my shoulders and I could just go out there and not worry about it,” Freeman said.
Bump for B.J.: Two home runs Saturday got B.J. Upton bumped up to fifth in the Braves lineup Sunday night, the highest he’d hit in the Braves order since batting second on May 13th. He’d hit sixth in the previous three games and continued to show progress at the plate, after hitting .145 the first two months of the season.
“You start seeing the swings getting better,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was able to split up left-handers Freeman and Brian McCann in the process. “I think moving him up to the sixth hole the last couple times freed him up a little bit on the basepaths (too).”
Upton stole two bases in two games while batting in the sixth spot. He’s spent 30 games this season in the seventh or eighth hole where it’s more difficult to run with the pitcher’s spot coming up.
Gonzalez started Ramiro Pena at second base Sunday for Dan Uggla, who was 0-for-13 with six strikeouts in his career against Tim Lincecum. McCann caught rookie Julio Teheran Sunday night, but Gonzalez said he plans to start Evan Gattis for two straight days in the Mets series, including one game in today’s doubleheader.
Gonzalez is planning to play him one of those games in left field and one game behind the plate.
All-Star update: Justin Upton dropped from first among NL outfielders to second behind Beltran in the latest All-Star balloting released Sunday night. But Upton is still is good standing among the top three outfielders. He’s aiming for his third All-Star appearance but this would be his first as a starter voted in by the fans.
Beltran leads all NL outfielders with 2,385,240 votes, followed by Upton with 2,054,225 and Bryce Harper with 1,981,030. The next-highest vote-getter among outfielders is Ryan Braun, who has 1,645,094.
McCann dropped from fourth to fifth in the voting at catcher, while Chris Johnson remained fourth among third basemen, Freeman fifth among first basemen and Andrelton Simmons fifth among shortstops.