Wood's scoreless outing boosts case to return to rotation

July 9th, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO -- Left-hander has made it clear that he prefers to start for the Giants, but he’s showing that he can thrive while pitching out of the bullpen, as well.

Wood worked five scoreless innings after coming in behind opener Ryan Walker, and Michael Conforto and Austin Slater slugged two-run home runs to lift the Giants to a 5-3 win over the Rockies on Saturday afternoon at Oracle Park.

Colorado scored in each of the first two innings off Walker, but San Francisco got through the middle innings thanks to a shutdown performance from Wood, who allowed only three hits while walking one and striking out three after taking over in the third.

The Rockies stacked their lineup with right-handed and switch-hitters -- third baseman Ryan McMahon was the lone lefty bat to get a starting nod -- but Wood managed to neutralize Colorado’s offense by mostly shelving his slider and leaning heavily on his sinker and changeup, which he threw 40 percent of the time on Saturday.

“They had a lot of guys [whom] the changeup played pretty well to,” Wood said. “I thought from the beginning that it was pretty sharp, so we just kind of rode that through the five innings.”

Wood, 32, ended the first half with a 4.68 ERA over 13 appearances, nine of which were starts. Still, he struggled to provide consistent length at the beginning of the season, and he hasn’t pitched out of the rotation since giving up six runs over 3 1/3 innings against the Padres on June 22. Following that rough outing, the Giants decided to experiment with using him in more of a bulk-innings role, which has yielded mostly positive results and helped minimize his third-time-through-the-order splits.

Wood gave up five runs (four earned) over 1 2/3 innings against the Mets in his last appearance, though he explained afterward that he had trouble gripping the ball due to the humid conditions, making it fairly easy to write off the erratic performance. In his two other bulk appearances behind an opener, Wood is 2-0 with 10 strikeouts over 10 scoreless innings.

“It was a great performance by Alex,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He’s just capable of so much. I think every Major League [pitcher] wants to have the wind at their back at all times. It’s the easiest way to pitch. But Woody’s been met with some challenges, and he’s met those challenges head on. It hasn’t been easy. You can see what he’s capable of when he gives everything he has on any given day. He’s capable of starting games and coming into games like this and being equally good.”

If Wood continues to pitch well, the Giants could consider moving him back to the rotation in the second half, especially given president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi’s stated preference to achieve “more definition and clarity” with the pitching staff and lessen the club’s reliance on bullpen games.

Wood, who is in the final year of the two-year, $25 million deal he signed in December 2021, has made it clear where he stands, but in the meantime, he’s continuing to do his best to adapt to his new role. Wood said he’s asked the Giants to keep him in the loop with what they have mapped out for each game to give him ample time to prepare and go through his usual pregame routine in the bullpen.

“It was nice today, because I knew I had the third inning,” Wood said. “I’ve kind of just been wanting this whole time just to kind of know the inning I was going to have if we’re going to use our version of an opener. Obviously, I want to start. That’s been the pretty clear message from me to our staff this whole time. I had two bad starts. We’re 6-3 in games I do start -- 6-2 if you take away when I hurt my hamstring in Miami [on April 18]. We’ll see what it’s like moving forward. It’s kind of out of my hands. But I definitely want to take the ball to start the game, for sure.”