Wood 'crisp' and 'efficient' in return from IL

Left-hander leads Giants' shutout with three hitless innings

September 19th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants managed to get by with only three-fifths of their starting rotation intact in recent weeks, but they received a major lift with the return of left-hander on Saturday night at Oracle Park.

In his first start since returning from the COVID-19 injured list, Wood worked three scoreless innings to help the Giants beat the Braves for the second straight night, 2-0, and maintain a two-game lead over the Dodgers in the National League West with 13 games left to play.

“He definitely exceeded expectations,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I didn’t think three innings was particularly likely going into this game. He was that crisp and that efficient. He landed all of his pitches for strikes. His slider was below the zone for swings.”

Wood retired nine of the 10 batters he faced in his first outing since Aug. 26, allowing only Travis d'Arnaud to reach on a hit-by-pitch with two outs in the second inning. Wood struck out four before hitting his 37-pitch limit, though he worked so efficiently that he was spotted in the dugout pleading with Kapler to let him stay in the game.

Kapler ultimately didn’t accede to Wood’s lobbying, sending Donovan Solano to pinch-hit when the pitcher’s spot came up in the bottom of the third.

“He felt good and wanted to go back out,” Kapler said. “I don’t think he was particularly happy that we didn’t send him back out, but I definitely feel like it was the right play for the Giants and for Alex going forward. I imagine that down the road, Alex will feel that way, too.”

The Giants wanted to ease Wood back into action, as he missed three weeks due to his bout with COVID-19, which left him bedridden for seven consecutive days with a fever and chills.

Despite experiencing some lingering congestion and fatigue, Wood ramped up quickly after exiting his quarantine period, throwing a 21-pitch live batting practice session at Oracle Park on Wednesday before receiving the green light to rejoin the rotation.

“I didn’t really have many expectations coming in,” Wood said. “I just got to the point the last two days where I was like, 'It’s crunch time.' We’re at the end of the year, trying to win the division and secure a spot in the NLDS. I had the mindset that I was going to see how I feel and take it inning by inning, and just go as long as I could. I obviously cruised through those first three pretty good, so I felt like I could have gone back out for the fourth, but they’re looking at the long-term picture, as far as the rest of the season and the postseason.”

Wood should help lighten the load on the Giants’ relievers as he continues to build up his arm down the stretch, but he essentially started another bullpen game for San Francisco on Saturday. He was followed by Zack Littell, Jay Jackson, Jarlín García, José Álvarez, Tyler Rogers and Dominic Leone, who combined to throw six scoreless innings to secure the Giants’ 16th shutout win of the year.

Nine of those shutouts have been caught by backup Curt Casali, who also accounted for both of the Giants’ runs by delivering a two-run bloop single off Braves right-hander Charlie Morton in the fourth.

“I definitely take a lot of pride in it,” Casali said. “I can’t take much credit for it, especially today. Our bullpen has been so fantastic throughout the entire season. If you’re executing pitches, it shouldn’t be that hard to call. That’s what happened tonight.”

Mike Yastrzemski ranks second on the team with 23 home runs this year, but he used a sacrifice bunt to set up Casali’s clutch hit in the fourth. LaMonte Wade Jr. opened the inning with a walk, and Brandon Crawford singled to put two aboard with no outs for Yastrzemski, who managed to advance the runners but was thrown out while trying to leg out a bunt single down the third-base line.

Braves third baseman Austin Riley foiled Yastrzemski’s attempt at a hit by making an impressive barehanded grab and throw to first baseman Freddie Freeman in time to record the out. Still, Casali subsequently came through for the Giants, lining a 2-2 fastball from Morton to the opposite field to make it 2-0.

That lead ultimately held thanks to great defense from the Giants, who received phenomenal plays from several defenders, including Crawford, who ranged far to his right and fired a one-hop throw to Brandon Belt at first base to retire Jorge Soler in the first inning, and Steven Duggar, who made a perfectly timed leap at the center-field wall to prevent a homer in the fourth. Duggar couldn’t hang on to make the catch, but he managed to keep Soler to a double and help Littell post a clean inning.

“I think, today, the defense won the game for us,” Kapler said. “We won the game for other reasons as well. Our pitching was excellent, but this is how the various components of our team depend on one another.”