Alex Wood was in a bit of pinch early against the Atlanta Braves Thursday.
Pitching against the team that drafted him, Wood allowed two quick first-inning hits and a run. Would this ruin his night?
The Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star ran his record to 13-1 in a 7-4 victory. That first-inning run was the only one Wood allowed on a night when, by both his and his manager’s description, he didn’t have his best stuff.
Wood, a former star at Ardrey Kell High, has never been better in his five Major League Baseball seasons. Thirteen victories in a season is a personal best. He has a 2.33 earned-run average and an amazing 1.55 ERA on the road, where he is 5-0.
A new pitch? Greater velocity? Yoga or a no-Gluten diet?
Something simpler we can all relate to: serenity. At 26, he’s engaged to be married and happy professionally and personally. A perfectionist by nature, Wood had a tendency to create pressure beyond what is really there.
He’s learning to relax and enjoy the ride.
“It’s still my biggest battle, for sure. I hold myself to a really high standard,” Wood said in an interview with the Observer Wednesday.
Wood, a left-hander, had a way growing up of not always observing the line between conscientious and compulsive when it came to pitching. It’s not as if he walked around grim all the time – he was a fun guy in the dugout – but he wasn’t good about accepting the past as not defining his future.
So, along with some technical work in the off-season – he improved the strength on the right side of his body – Wood learned to make peace with the reality that every pitcher gets knocked around once in a while.
“I don’t want to get too testimonial on you, but I’ve gotten where it’s almost kind of written where however each outing goes, it’s in God’s hands,” Wood said. “I’ve really tried to focus on the idea that whatever happens is out of my control, so long as I give my best effort.”
Wood reminds himself to put poor performances behind faster. That is partially a function of age and experience. It was a shock when the Braves traded him to the Dodgers during the 2015 season, but it’s been good for him.
Also, it helps that a fellow Southerner, Tennessean Rick Honeycutt, is his pitching coach. “He has seen everything!” Wood said of Honeycutt’s guidance.
“You get hit around a lot, whether you’re the best (pitcher) in the world or whatever,” Wood said. “It’s not great for your life outside the field when you hold on to things too long. It’s something I work on every day, and it’s played a big factor this year.”
When Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (currently out with a back strain) pitched the Sunday before the All-Star Game in Miami, it opened a spot on the National League roster. Wood was named as the replacement.
“If I hadn’t made it this year, I don’t know when,” Wood said of the honor that amounted to his debut on the national scene.
The Dodgers have by far the best record in the National League, 76-32 through Wood’s start Thursday. That was 12 games better than the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.
Wood has shown some wear-and-tear, and the rest of the regular season is essentially about preparing for the playoffs in September. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Thursday night it’s possible Wood could miss a start along the way to protect his energy and durability.
About that Wood-as-perfectionist issue?
“He is,” Roberts said Wednesday. “It’s my experience that great baseball players are aligned like that. They expect more from themselves than anyone. So I don’t see that as a problem.”
Not now, anyway. This new California dude Alex Wood has found his Zen.