7/31/2014 2:54 A.M. ET
Wood finds form with eight-K gem vs. Dodgers
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Just five days removed from allowing a season-high 12 hits against a rather weak Padres lineup, Braves lefty Alex Wood limited the Dodgers' potent offense to just one run on six hits with eight strikeouts over seven innings during Wednesday night's 3-2 loss in 10 innings.
It was an outing that provided the Braves further reason to believe Wood will be capable of dealing with the pressure of pitching in a similar environment during the postseason.
"I always enjoy pitching against like [Zack] Greinke because it shows me that I can go out there and go toe-to-toe with a guy like that," Wood said. "He's as good as it gets."
Wood was not necessarily dominant, as he allowed at least one Dodgers baserunner in each of the first six innings. But whenever presented with trouble, he managed to induce a timely ground ball or flash his nasty curveball, which accounted for consecutive strikeouts of Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez to end the first inning with Dee Gordon at second base. The only run surrendered by Wood came courtesy of Matt Kemp's homer to begin the second inning. Kemp's blast into the left-center field seats was his third homer in a span of five plate appearances.
"I made that one mistake to Kemp, and boy is he locked in right now, not just on that home run, but yesterday and today," Wood said. "Anytime you get a hitter who is capable of doing what he is doing, you've got to be careful. He made me pay early."
Tommy La Stella produced Atlanta's most influential defensive assist when he dove to his right to snag Gordon's one-out, fifth-inning single, which would have easily scored A.J. Ellis had it rolled past the hustling second baseman. Wood then proceeded to retire Yasiel Puig and Gonzalez, leaving Ellis stuck at third base.
Showing no signs that he was making just his 25th career start, Wood was not fazed when the Dodgers put runners at the corners with two outs in the sixth inning. Instead of issuing an intentional walk that would have given the Dodgers reason to think about pulling Greinke, Wood went right at Ellis and set him down with a strikeout.
Wood displayed his emotions as he walked off the mound in the sixth inning and then completed his only perfect frame of the night during his seventh and final inning. He has allowed one run or fewer and completed at least seven innings in five of his 14 starts this season.
"He made some good pitches against a right-handed-dominant lineup," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Every time he goes out, he gives you an opportunity. You see the competitiveness there. You see him making pitches. You see him not wanting to come out of games. It's nice to see that."
Braves' focus is on the field as Deadline nears
LOS ANGELES -- Like fans, many baseball players have spent the past few days keeping up with trade rumors involving Jon Lester and a significant portion of the Phillies' roster. But Freddie Freeman said he has not allowed himself to be consumed about what the Braves might do before Thursday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"We've got enough to worry about, going out there three hours every night and trying to win ballgames," Freeman said. "That's what [the front office's] job is. Our job is to be on the field and go out there and play hard every night. I keep hearing lefty arm. Whatever happens, happens. We'll welcome that person if he comes. If not, we'll go out there and keep doing what we're doing and keep trying to win ballgames."
Assembled at Turner Field this week, Braves general manager Frank Wren and many of his top scouts have continued to prioritize finding a left-handed reliever. Red Sox southpaw Andrew Miller, who has limited left-handed hitters to a .206 on-base percentage, sits at the top of Atlanta's wish list.
But because a number of other clubs are showing interest in Miller, the Red Sox's asking price may be more than what the Braves are willing to part with.
Because the Braves went over budget when they gave Ervin Santana a $14.1 million contract in March, they are not in a position to take on any more salary this year. Thus, in order to get other clubs to agree to pay the remainder of a player's salary, the Braves will likely have to provide a more significant return in terms of prospects.
While finding a lefty reliever has stood as the highest priority, the Braves have looked at the possibility of acquiring a veteran pinch-hitter to strengthen their anemic bench. Both of these areas of need might be addressed in August when clubs can acquire players who have passed through waivers.
Many of the daily conversations Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez have shared over the past couple of weeks have included ways they could improve the club via trade. But Gonzalez seemed to understand there is a possibility that Thursday's deadline will pass without a deal being done.
"We're who we are and we're [one game] behind the Nationals in our division," Gonzalez said. "So, you feel like you have a pretty good club. Yeah, you always want to improve, but you never want to take away from your own club if you can [avoid it]. We could get a piece here or a piece there. We'll see."
Back to keep Heyward out of Dodgers series
LOS ANGELES -- Jason Heyward arrived in Los Angeles hoping that lower back discomfort would not prevent him from missing more than Tuesday's series opener against the Dodgers. But it now looks like Heyward will not return to the Braves' lineup before Friday night's series opener in San Diego.
Still feeling some discomfort on Wednesday, Heyward missed his second straight start and third in a span of four games. Dating back to Sunday, his lower back has limited him to the four innings he played Monday against the Padres.
"I don't see this being a [disabled list] thing, we haven't even talked about that," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I'm going to try to lay off him a little bit and give his [back] a chance to calm down."
Gonzalez said he will likely give Heyward an extra day to rest once he says he is no longer being bothered by the back discomfort that he has felt since ranging into foul territory to attempt to make catch against the Marlins on July 24.
• Jonny Venters has been encouraged by the way his left arm has felt while completing long toss and flat ground throwing exercises the past week. But as he attempts to beat the odds by returning from a second Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Venters knows that his real test will begin when he throws off a mound for the first time. It remains far too early to even guess whether Venters might be capable of pitching for the Braves this year.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.