Wood splinters Bucs' bats, plays stopper
Lefty fans eight to help Braves snap five-game skid
PITTSBURGH -- While Julio Teheran has created concern with the inconsistency he has displayed over the past few months, Alex Wood has spent the past six weeks proving he could make adjustments necessary to distance himself from his early-season struggles.
Still, none of the successful outings Wood has recently completed were any more impressive than the dominant one he fashioned while helping the Braves snap a five-game losing streak with Sunday afternoon's 2-1 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.
"This is my best [start] of the year for sure, just in terms of my fastball command, being able to move it in and out," Wood said. "Today is how I felt during that long stretch that I put together last year. Hopefully, it will carry over the rest of the year."
As Wood limited the Pirates to five hits over 7 1/3 scoreless innings, he might have actually been even more impressive than he had been during many of the outings he completed while posting a 1.92 ERA over last season's final 11 starts.
For the first time this season, Wood commanded his fastball on both sides of the plate and consistently produced awkward swings with his spike curveball. Consequently, he matched a season-high eight strikeouts and limited the Pirates to a pair of Jordy Mercer singles through the first six innings.
"He was pretty much in control the whole game," Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "He had all three of his pitches working and he was moving his fastball around. He was ahead in the count. That's what he can do. When he's right, he can dominate lineups. Today you saw a glimpse of what he can do."
After proving dominant through the first six innings, Wood impressed with the poise and approach he maintained after Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte opened the bottom of the seventh by notching consecutive singles on first-pitch fastballs. The Braves' left-hander then displayed his athleticism to record an out on Francisco Cervelli's sacrifice bunt.
With a pair of runners in scoring position and one out, Wood cautiously approached Mercer with the understanding that a walk would set up a double-play opportunity against Sean Rodriguez. But after Mercer aggressively chased a high 2-1 fastball, Wood went for the kill and froze the Pirates' shortstop with a fastball.
"He threw a lot of fastballs in to a lot of their right-handed hitters that backed them up and made them respect both sides of the plate," Pierzynski said. "He had a lot of strikeouts, especially looking at fastballs that were in on the plate because they were looking out over [the plate]."
As Wood compiled a 4.03 ERA through five starts in April, he did not have a consistent feel for his two-seam fastball or his curveball, a pitch with which he concluded three of his first four strikeouts on Sunday.
But now that he has a feel for both of these pitches and his changeup, Wood is hoping to end this season much like he did last year, with a number of outings similar to this latest one against the Pirates.
"When you have a day like today when you have all three pitches going, those usually turn out to be pretty fun days," Wood said.