ATLANTA -- After utilizing Alex Wood in the eighth inning of Sunday's win over the Cubs, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he the rookie left-hander would continue to serve as reliever through the postseason.
Though Wood has shown some signs of fatigue as he nears the end of his first full professional season, Gonzalez said the decision to move him from starter to reliever was solely influenced on the need to strengthen a bullpen that has become an area of concern over the past few weeks.
"There's a lot of pluses with him going into the bullpen," Gonzalez said. "It has nothing to do with the innings [he has completed]. It has everything to do with us being a better pitching staff."
Since posting a 0.90 ERA in five August starts, Wood has not completed five innings in any of the three starts that have followed. The late-season struggles are not completely surprising given the 22-year-old southpaw completed his playing career at the University of Georgia last year. He has combined to throw 137 2/3 innings between the Majors and Minors this year.
Wood's presence in the bullpen will provide the Braves a third left-handed reliever. The other two -- Scott Downs and Luis Avilan -- have struggled recently. Downs has allowed four earned runs and surrendered 10 hits while totaling just two innings in eight appearances this month. More troubling is the fact that left-handed hitters have batted .667 (6-for-9) against him during that span.
Avilan has at least provided some signs of encouragement while holding opponents scoreless in nine of his past 13 appearances. But he certainly has not been as dominant as he was earlier this season, when he did not allow an earned run in the 35 appearances he made from May 24-Aug. 14.
While allowing opponents to hit .297 and compile a .341 on-base percentage in his past 13 appearances, Avilan has been dealing with the added burden that has been placed on him since fellow setup man Jordan Walden strained his groin in late August. Walden has added to the bullpen concerns by proving ineffective in two of the three appearances he has made since missing nearly three weeks with the ailment.
With Wood capable of handling any late-inning situation, the Braves might be able to lessen the strain placed on Avilan. More importantly, it could provide Gonzalez a more dependable option than he has had recently.
Wood compiled a 2.29 ERA and limited opponents to a .264 on-base percentage in the 16 relief appearances he made before becoming a permanent fixture in Atlanta's bullpen in late July. During a two-pitch appearance in Sunday's win over the Cubs, he induced a double play that allowed the Braves to escape a potentially damaging eighth-inning threat.
"Looking ahead, I think he will be a big piece for us coming out of that bullpen," Gonzalez said.
Fredi tossed after disputing hit-by-pitch call
ATLANTA -- Fredi Gonzalez usually remains composed while arguing with umpires. But the Braves manager unloaded on home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez after the veteran ump ruled Paul Janish did not attempt to get out of the way of a pitch that hit him in the seventh inning of Monday night's 5-0 loss to the Brewers.
Janish began to make his way to first base after he was hit on the left knee by Marco Estrada's changeup, but returned when Hernandez made his ruling. That led Gonzalez to rush toward the plate to get between Janish and Hernandez and begin an argument that became more heated as it progressed.
"You get a chance to get two guys on, and you can either go Elliot Johnson or [Freddie Freeman] there and see what happens, but I don't even want to talk about it," Gonzalez said after the game. "Angel's not all wrong about that call, but I thought that ball was deep enough in that batters' box."
Gonzalez got nose to nose with Hernandez and began yelling some choice words that earned him his fifth ejection of the season and second in the past five games. Before leaving the field, the Atlanta skipper kicked dirt and entered the right-handed batters' box to further express how he felt about the call.
"For my opinion, he was just trying to get out of the way and didn't," Gonzalez said. "But the next inning, we gave up two more runs, and that kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit."
Postseason rotation yet to be determined
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell began mapping out potential plans for the starting rotation they will utilize during the postseason. The product of their conversation will become more clear based on how they align the rotation for this week's four-game series against the Phillies.
Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran have all established themselves as candidates to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Regardless of who receives this honor, that trio will serve as the first three starters during the best-of-five series.
"All three guys have been pitching pretty darn good," Gonzalez said.
Medlen has significantly improved his candidacy while compiling a 1.03 ERA in his past five starts. He also stands as the only member of the group who has pitched in the postseason. He started the National League Wild Card playoff against the Cardinals last year.
With Alex Wood having moved to the bullpen for the remainder of the year, Freddy Garcia and Paul Maholm are the most likely candidates to start Game 4 of the NLDS. Maholm battled elbow discomfort early this month and showed some rust while pitching for the first time in 12 days during Friday's win over the Cubs.
Garcia will make Tuesday's start against the Brewers with the confidence he has built while allowing just two earned runs in the 13 innings he has combined to complete in two starts for Atlanta this month . He has proven to be better than envisioned when the Braves acquired him from the Orioles on Aug. 22 and sent him to Triple-A Gwinnett for the final week of the International League's regular season.
While Garcia spent all of July and August at the Minor League level, the Braves view him as a proven veteran who will not be unnerved in a big-game situation. The 36-year-old veteran has made 10 postseason starts. But just one of those has come since he tossed seven scoreless innings for the White Sox in the decisive Game 4 of the 2005 World Series.
"He knows how to pitch and he's not scared," Gonzalez said. "He's not rattled. He's been in that situation. It won't surprise anyone if he's a candidate for that spot."
Fredi finds rest for regulars as Braves eye home field
ATLANTA -- With their first National League East title since 2005 in hand, the Braves have turned their focus toward securing home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs ahead of their final homestand of the regular season.
But Monday night's starting lineup reflected another pressing goal of the run-up to the postseason, as first baseman Freddie Freeman received his first day off since Aug. 29, replaced by rookie Joey Terdoslavich. Freeman became the first of a handful of everyday players who appear headed for a personal day later this week.
"I'm not going to give four or five [the day off] at the same time, but some of the guys are a little banged up, and I think we're going to use this to get a little recharged," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think at the end of the season, having three days off is going to help us through some of those bumps and bruises."
Gonzalez expected Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson to each sit at least one game at some point over the upcoming series against Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Entering Monday, Simmons had appeared in 150 of the team's 155 games and leads all Atlanta position players with 143 starts this year. Johnson has manned third in all but three of the team's 90 games since June 12 after spending the first two months of the season splitting time with Juan Francisco.
After playing a full nine innings on Sunday for the first time since fracturing his jaw on Aug. 21, Jason Heyward was slated to start Monday and Tuesday's games against the Brewers before getting the day off on Wednesday as he continues to readjust to everyday action.
As for the pitching staff, Gonzalez cited the three days between the final day of the regular season and the start of the postseason as sufficient rest to keep his rotation and bullpen within their regular routine over the season's final week, without overtaxing or overprotecting any one arm.
"It's seven games, so I'd rather go out there and pitch just like we were still chasing the division," closer Craig Kimbrel said. "Every game does count, but I just don't want to take a few days off and get out of the groove of things. If it's a situation where I would normally go in and pitch, I want to go in and pitch."
Still, after nearly every regular missed significant time with an injury over the course of the season, the Braves will play it cautiously if they feel their push for home-field advantage is putting any key player at risk.
"I'm going to be looking at body language the next seven days, and if somebody comes in and starts doing a little twitch or something, I'm going to get them out," Gonzalez said. "You don't want guys getting hurt this time of year."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.