Wood battles elements in first big league start
Lefty lasts three innings while dealing with cut cuticle, uncomfortable glasses
ATLANTA -- This was not the ideal situation for Alex Wood to make his first Major League start. The highly regarded Braves pitching prospect had not thrown more than 35 pitches in any of the six relief appearances he had made since he was removed from Double-A Mississippi's starting rotation to join Atlanta's bullpen on May 30.
In a perfect world, Wood would have had time to condition himself for this occasion. But time was not on his side when he stood as the best option to start the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Mets once an MRI performed on Brandon Beachy's right elbow Friday showed inflammation.
So instead of sending Beachy to the mound to make his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Braves sent Wood to the mound with the hope he could complete at least four innings. That proved to be an optimistic goal, as the left-hander struggled with his command and lasted just three innings in a 4-3 loss to the Mets.
"He threw a lot of pitches in three innings, but he battled," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said of Wood, who was taken in the second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft after finishing his playing career at the University of Georgia.
Wood, the Braves' No. 5 overall prospect, battled multiple elements as he threw just 38 of his 73 pitches for strikes and issued three walks. He never gained comfort with the glasses he began wearing two weeks ago and he also dealt with a cuticle that began bleeding on his left index finger late in the second inning.
While Wood produced a 1.26 ERA in the eight starts he made for Mississippi, he pitched regularly enough to form a callus that prevented him from experiencing this bleeding after putting pressure on his finger when throwing his spike curveball. But the callus began to soften as he pitched less frequently in a relief role over the past three weeks.
"I was trying to throw my spike curveball and the skin opened at the top," Wood said. "It wasn't really bothering me. But it was bleeding, so it was making it a little slick when I would throw the breaking balls there at the end.
"When I was starting, I would throw 10, 12 or maybe 15 breaking balls during the game. You're throwing it so much that it stays hard on the top of my finger. Now in the bullpen, I think it's kind of got a little soft because I'm not throwing as much as I was before. It's just one of those things that I have to keep an eye on it and watch it."
Wood began wearing glasses earlier this month when he began having more trouble seeing the catcher's signs. The prescription-filled Oakleys he ordered two weeks ago have not yet arrived, and he is now thinking about wearing contacts.
"It's been an adjustment for me with those glasses," Wood said. "I think it has affected my command a little bit. I think it's a little bit uncharacteristic with the walks the last two times. But we'll see. I just have to make the adjustment."
Wood recorded three ground-ball outs in a perfect first inning and pitched around the consecutive walks he issued at the start of the second. But after opening the third inning with two of his five strikeouts, he surrendered a single to Daniel Murphy and then walked David Wright.
The only run Wood surrendered came when Murphy scored from second base after third baseman Chris Johnson hesitated before throwing to first base in an attempt to retire Marlon Byrd on what would have been an inning-ending groundout in the third inning.
The Braves will now have the option to move Wood back to a relief role. But manager Fredi Gonzalez was pleased with what his young pitcher provided in what was his first start since throwing seven innings for Mississippi on May 25.
"I thought Woody did a nice job giving us whatever he could give us, three innings and  pitches," Gonzalez said. "That's a lot of pitches for a kid that hadn't started in three weeks."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.