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Wood's statement '17 leads to Game 4 start

MLB.com @AJCassavell

CHICAGO -- At Dodgers camp this spring, Alex Wood spent a month and a half locked in a fierce competition for a place in the starting rotation. Wood had impressed out of the bullpen at the end of the 2016 season, but he made it clear to the club that he envisioned himself as a starter.

Instead, in the final week of Spring Training, Wood was informed he would open the year in the bullpen.

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CHICAGO -- At Dodgers camp this spring, Alex Wood spent a month and a half locked in a fierce competition for a place in the starting rotation. Wood had impressed out of the bullpen at the end of the 2016 season, but he made it clear to the club that he envisioned himself as a starter.

Instead, in the final week of Spring Training, Wood was informed he would open the year in the bullpen.

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"Did I agree with it or think that was the way we should have gone? Candidly, no," said Wood, who will take the ball Wednesday night against the Cubs in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World. "But it's just about playing well and taking advantage of your opportunities. It worked out pretty good."

It worked out for Wood. And it worked out for the Dodgers, who have a 3-0 lead in the NLCS and could clinch their first World Series berth since 1988 with a win Wednesday.

By late April, Wood found himself in the rotation. By July, he was an All-Star. And by September, when the Dodgers started mapping out rotation plans for the playoffs, Wood was squarely in the mix.

Following his final regular-season start against the Padres, Wood was informed he was in the postseason rotation. He didn't start in the NL Division Series because the Dodgers dispatched Arizona in three games. Instead, his first career playoff start will come in the NLCS on Wednesday -- three weeks since his last game action.

In the interim, Wood pitched two simulated games, including an 85-pitch outing on Thursday, meant to take the place of his NLDS Game 4 start that never happened. Wood touted the competitive nature of that sim game, noting he prepared mentally like any other start.

"You never want to give up hits or throw poorly against anyone, especially your teammates," Wood said. "We have some pretty talented guys in our lineup, and I've been facing them a lot. ... There are a lot of similarities with our lineup and theirs in terms of on-base and the plate discipline that guys on their team have. It's been a challenge and a lot of fun to prepare that way."

Video: NLCS Gm4: Wood on staying sharp with simulated games

Wednesday will mark Wood's fifth career playoff appearance, but his first as a starter. Of course, that's where he feels he belongs.

"I know to start the season, he was very disappointed that we had him start the season in the 'pen," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "He said we'd regret it. He proved to be right. He earned that opportunity to get out of the 'pen and make starts."

Of course, there's nothing the Dodgers regret about Wood's season. In 27 appearances (25 starts), Wood posted a 2.72 ERA. He won his first 11 decisions and would finish 16-3 with a 1.06 WHIP.

Still, in the season's final month, the Dodgers mulled the possibility of using Wood out of the bullpen in the postseason. After all, he had proven himself effective there, unlike Hyun-Jin Ryu. Plus, the potential for more Clayton Kershaw short-rest starts loomed.

But Wood finished the season strong, with a 2.00 ERA and just 14 hits in his final three outings. Evidently, it was enough to convince the Dodgers that his presence in the rotation was simply too valuable to pass up -- especially if it meant normal rest for Kershaw, a luxury that hadn't been afforded him over the last three years.

"Did I think I would make more of an impact and be better suited to start? Yeah," Wood said. "I had a pretty good year, and I feel good with where I'm at currently.

"This is the kind of thing that you live for. It's about rising to the occasion."

AJ Cassavell is in his seventh season as a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

Los Angeles Dodgers