SAN FRANCISCO -- Left-hander Alex Wood has shown that he has plenty to offer out of the Giants’ rotation, but one quality has stood out in particular in his first season in San Francisco.
“I love Alex’s pace,” manager Gabe Kapler said Monday. “Three of our initiatives as a pitching department are push the pace, pound the zone and know your plan. He pushes the pace as well as anybody. I think he makes hitters uncomfortable as a result.”
Wood certainly made quick work of the Rangers, striking out seven while firing seven innings of one-run ball to lead the Giants to a 3-1 win in Monday night’s series opener at Oracle Park.
Wood departed with the game tied, 1-1, but the Giants rewarded him with his fourth win of the year after staging the decisive rally in the bottom of the seventh. After left-hander John King entered in relief of Texas starter Kyle Gibson, Kapler summoned three consecutive right-handed hitters off the bench and capitalized on the platoon advantage.
Austin Slater walked, Darin Ruf singled and Mauricio Dubón delivered a two-out single to left field to put the Giants ahead, 2-1. Dubón, who entered Monday batting .188, fouled off five pitches before lining a 2-2 cutter from King to left to drive in Slater, who easily scored on Khris Davis’ weak throw back to the infield.
“I didn’t know if I was going to hit, honestly,” Dubón said. “I was ready to hit near the lefty matchup with [Mike] Tauchman. I know I can play center. Kap knew I was ready, too, so he decided I was going to hit. I went up there and tried to put up a good at-bat, and it ended up working.”
San Francisco added an insurance run after Mike Yastrzemski reached on a throwing error by Rangers third baseman Charlie Culberson, allowing Ruf to trot home from third.
Runs had been at a premium before the seventh due to the solid work by Wood and Gibson. Brandon Belt opened the scoring with his eighth home run of the year, a solo shot to left-center field off Gibson in the fourth, but the Rangers tied it in the fifth after Davis tripled off the right-field wall and scored on a single by Culberson.
“Tonight was a blast, man,” Wood said. “That was a fun baseball game for us.”
The Giants improved to 13-4 at Oracle Park and 21-14 overall, tied with the Cardinals for the best record in the National League. Wood has been among the club’s most valuable newcomers, as he’s logged a 1.80 ERA over his first six starts, the fourth-best ERA in the NL among starters with at least 20 innings pitched this year.
“He’s just been excellent all year,” Kapler said. “It seems like the bigger the moment is in the game, the more he bears down. His intensity level from the beginning to the end of his outings has been very consistent. Not over the top, just the right amount of intensity to stay composed and under control, make pitches and work fast.”
Wood has averaged 19.9 seconds between pitches this year, the third-quickest pace of any starter in the Majors, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In addition to working at a crisp pace, Wood features a pair of dominant secondary weapons in his slider and changeup. Entering Monday, batters were slashing only .125/.152/.188 (8-for-64) against Wood’s offspeed offerings in 2021.
Six of Wood’s seven strikeouts came on his wipeout slider, which induced 10 whiffs on 20 swings on Monday.
“The way my slider is profiling right now is really good, it’s really pairing well with my fastball and changeup,” Wood said. “I’ve been attacking all zones, up, down, in and out and being able to execute the slider whenever I want has been really big for me.”
Wood was cruising after striking out Isiah Kiner-Falefa to start the sixth, but he then fell into a self-induced jam after briefly losing his command over a two-batter span. He issued back-to-back walks to Nick Solak and Nate Lowe on nine pitches, drawing a quick mound visit from pitching coach Andrew Bailey. The chat proved effective, as Wood responded by striking out Adolis García and Joey Gallo -- the latter on three pitches -- to end the inning.
“He just gave me a breather,” Wood said of Bailey. “We talked about what we wanted to do to attack the next hitter. He’s had some good mound visits this year. His success rate is high. I hope I’m not jinxing him right now.”
After getting Gallo to swing through a nasty slider, Wood emphatically pumped his fist as he walked off the mound and made his way back to the Giants’ dugout. He came back out for the seventh and issued a one-out walk to Culberson before initiating a 1-4-3 inning-ending double play on his 99th and final pitch of the night.
"I was talking with [Kiner-Falefa] just a little bit about him after the game,” Gibson said. “He commands his fastball really well. And then his slider right off the bat just looks like his fastball the whole way. He had a really good changeup tonight. When you can hit corners inside and outside to righties and lefties, and your ball moves so late, it doesn't even really matter how much it moves. You can get through a lineup pretty easily. His stuff was just on, you know. It looked really good and was giving our hitters fits on that."