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Well-rested Wood set to start pivotal Game 4

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

HOUSTON -- Having already risen from rotation afterthought to All-Star this year, Alex Wood now shoulders the task of trying to help a Dodgers club that has played from ahead all season avoid falling to the brink of elimination.

Choosing not to send ace Clayton Kershaw back to the mound on short rest, the Dodgers will hand tonight's Game 4 start to Wood, a first-time World Series starter. The 26-year-old lefty is slated to match up against Houston's Charlie Morton, though the taller task will be taming an Astros lineup stacked with imposing right-handed bats.

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HOUSTON -- Having already risen from rotation afterthought to All-Star this year, Alex Wood now shoulders the task of trying to help a Dodgers club that has played from ahead all season avoid falling to the brink of elimination.

Choosing not to send ace Clayton Kershaw back to the mound on short rest, the Dodgers will hand tonight's Game 4 start to Wood, a first-time World Series starter. The 26-year-old lefty is slated to match up against Houston's Charlie Morton, though the taller task will be taming an Astros lineup stacked with imposing right-handed bats.

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Familiarity will be no factor, either, as Wood has faced only four players on the Astros' World Series roster.

"They obviously have a great lineup," Wood said. "I think you see a trend with these teams going far in the playoffs -- the Cubs, ourselves, the Astros. [There are] a lot of similarities in kind of the culture and identity of their offense, a lot of plate discipline. It's a challenge, but I'm excited for it."

Wood has spent the year trying to prove his place in this Dodgers' rotation. Initially irked that he was left out of it to start the season, Wood told manager Dave Roberts that he'd come to regret the decision. And even after piecing together the best year of his career, Wood entered the final days of September uncertain what October plans the Dodgers had for him.

The Dodgers weighed Wood's credentials against those of Hyun-Jin Ryu before settling on Wood, who had posted a career-best 2.72 ERA during the regular season.

"Did I think I would make more of an impact and be better suited to start? Yeah," Wood said. "This is the kind of thing that you live for. It's about rising to the occasion."

The Dodgers have never needed him to do so more than they will tonight. An ineffective start by Yu Darvish in Game 3 not only dropped the Dodgers into a 2-1 deficit, but it also put the onus on the bullpen to garner 22 outs. Kenta Maeda did vital work in covering 2 2/3 innings, but behind him Roberts still had to run through four other relievers in the 5-3 loss.

Thus, in a postseason where managers have been quick to pull starters and turn games over to the 'pen, Roberts may not feel that luxury in Game 4.

Video: WS2017 Gm4: Wood on preparing for first WS start

"Alex is going to have to go deep," Roberts acknowledged, adding that he does expect everyone but Maeda to still be available in relief.

Being well rested is not an issue for Wood. But being sharp may be.

He wasn't needed in the National League Division Series, which the Dodgers swept. Wood did make a start in the NL Championship Series, lasting 4 2/3 innings and serving up three solo home runs in a one-run loss. That has been his lone appearance since Sept. 26.

In an effort to try to keep his feel and command amid the inconsistent work, Wood has resorted to side sessions and simulated games throughout the month.

"It has its pluses and minuses," Wood said of the irregular schedule. "Really at this point it's more about kind of mental fortitude than anything. It's how focused can you stay and how mentally prepared can you be, and then it comes down to execution. From those aspects I feel confident, and I'm ready to go [tonight]."

Video: WS2017 Gm4: Wood to match up with Morton in Game 4

He's given the Dodgers little reason to doubt that will be the case, as Wood has pushed through the doubt and skepticism of others all year. Once a rotation spot opened in April, Wood seized it, reached the season's midway point with a 10-0 record and 1.67 ERA, and became the first Dodgers pitcher since Rick Rhoden in 1976 to begin a year without a loss in 14 consecutive starts.

The biggest hiccup since then has been the 16 home runs Wood has served up in his last 13 starts. Recent results, though, don't seem to be on his mind.

"It's one of the things where circumstances are definitely different and the prize is a lot bigger, pitching in a World Series," Wood said. "But at the same time, you want to do what you know how to do. And I always pride myself on my preparation and being the best prepared and knowing what to throw and when to throw it. I just try to be physically ready and feel good for [tonight]."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Alex Wood