Braves pitcher Alex Wood posted a 3.13 ERA in 31 games during his rookie season last year and is battling Freddy Garcia for the No. 5 spot in Atlanta’s rotation for this season. (Reuters)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Alex Wood has long used skepticism as fuel for the inferno that drives him. So when the Braves left-hander read or heard things over the winter about how his funky delivery made him susceptible to injury and better suited to relief pitching, well, that did the trick.
“People pick you apart,” he said, and by “you” he meant him. “It’s always the same stuff: How I throw, or how do you feel? Like, even if I do well, people saying things to you, people asking you things, people tweeting things to me.”
Wood, 23, was a second-round pick out of the University of Georgia in 2012. Fourteen months later, he was 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in five August starts, part of a rookie season in which he posted a 3.13 ERA in 31 games (11 starts).
Now the kid with the live-wire energy is competing for a rotation spot with the oldest Brave, the seen-it-all, nothing-fazes-him 37-year-old, Freddy Garcia. The one who doesn’t get the job might go to the bullpen.
Garcia has pitched five perfect innings with five strikeouts in his first two starts. Wood made his second spring start Friday against the Red Sox and allowed just two hits in three innings and struck out two — a dazzling performance that followed his two innings of work Sunday against the Tigers when he allowed three hits and struck out two.
“I had good results the first time, but obviously a lot of stuff to work on,” Wood said. “I threw a good bullpen (session) this week and feel it starting to come back every day.”
Being in an actual job competition means Wood doesn’t have to create one.
“For me personally, that’s kind of how I go about it anyway, so it’s not that much different,” he said. “But at the same time, it makes it more real when it’s actually what is happening. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It makes me better and makes me work even harder.”
The hard-throwing Charlotte, N.C., native impressed as a rookie. Yet Wood noticed — maybe he was looking? — that there were still skeptics this winter. He had Tommy John surgery in his senior year of high school, and some think his delivery causes too much stress to pitch 175 or more innings as a starter.
“(Critics) want it to look nice,” he said. “But as long as you get to a good position (before releasing the pitch), it doesn’t matter what you do before. If you break it down on film, I get to as good a position as you really could possibly get to.”
TEHERAN WORKS OUT OF JAMS: Six Nationals reached base in three innings against Julio Teheran on Thursday, but the Braves starter worked out of trouble in each of those innings during a 3-2 win at Champion Stadium.
Todd Cunningham’s bases-loaded bloop hit in the sixth inning drove in the first run, and another scored when Matt Lipka followed by grounding into a bases-loaded double play for a 2-0 Braves lead. The Nationals tied the score with two runs in the ninth on three hits and a walk against off non-roster invitee Lay Batista, including Chris Snyder’s leadoff homer, before the Braves won on Braeden Schlehuber’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the inning.
Teheran allowed four hits, one walk, hit a batter and had four strikeouts in three innings of his second start, both against the Nationals. He gave up two hits and no walks in two scoreless innings Saturday.
“I was getting in a little bit of trouble — just a couple of mistakes; that’s where they got the base hits,” said the right-hander, who who threw 36 strikes in 53 pitches. “But I felt good. I was commanding. Couple of misses, but I got out of trouble.”
The Nationals had two on with one out in the second after an infield hit and a walk, before Teheran got a strikeout and ground out. The first three Nationals reached base in the third, but one was thrown out by catcher Evan Gattis trying to steal and Teheran induced a double-play grounder.
WALKS FOR GOOD CAUSE: Cindy Donald is partnering with manager Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves to raise money for her Dreams of Recovery Foundation, which defrays costs of therapy and therapy equipment for victims of spinal-cord and brain injuries.
In a program called Walks for Recovery, they’re asking individuals, groups and corporations to contribute 10 cents or more for every walk by a Braves batter in 2014. The goal is to raise $1,000 for every walk, to help the foundation assist more than 50 people on its waiting list.
“This is something special from my heart,” said Gonzalez, who has worked with former manager Bobby Cox and Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell to help Donald for several years.
They all lived in the same Marietta neighborhood and Gonzalez and McDowell met her after hearing how she was paralyzed from the neck down in 2005 at age 21, when her father accidentally hit her with his car while she was sunbathing in their driveway.