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DeShields helps Wood regain confidence

MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reliever Blake Wood was the lone free agent the Reds signed to a big league contract ahead of 2016 Spring Training. But that didn't prevent the club from almost cutting Wood last year. The degree to which the right-hander struggled could not be overstated.

"Let's clarify, Wood had one of the worst springs I've ever seen a pitcher have that I thought was going to make the team," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Let's call it as we see it. That was a straight beat-down."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reliever Blake Wood was the lone free agent the Reds signed to a big league contract ahead of 2016 Spring Training. But that didn't prevent the club from almost cutting Wood last year. The degree to which the right-hander struggled could not be overstated.

"Let's clarify, Wood had one of the worst springs I've ever seen a pitcher have that I thought was going to make the team," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Let's call it as we see it. That was a straight beat-down."

Wood, who spent 2015 with the Pirates' Triple-A team, had a 6.92 ERA in nine spring games last year, allowing 21 hits, 11 runs, six walks, 11 strikeouts and two homers in 13 innings. Triple-A Louisville manager Delino DeShields saw the struggles and offered his opinion to Price before any decisions were made.

Video: CIN@ATL: Wood seals the win for the Reds

"Something told me to just go in and tell Bryan. I had seen Blake the previous year in Triple-A, and he was really, really good," DeShields said. "I just popped in to see Bryan and told him what I knew, and he was better than that."

"That made a big difference for me in how I looked at Blake," Price said.

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Wood, who had led the International League with 29 saves in 2015, ended up making the Reds out of camp and proved to be one of their more consistent relievers who spent the entire season in the big leagues.

Wood, 31, had a 3.99 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 70 appearances and 76 2/3 innings. Of his 36 inherited runners, seven scored. Over his nine homers allowed, eight came in the second half.

"I was thankful because I know Delino kind of stuck his neck out there for me," Wood said. "I told him I really appreciated it. I'm glad he did, and glad the coaches stuck with me. I think it worked out for everybody."

When Wood did struggle, he was using a big over-rotated high leg kick and having difficulty repeating his delivery and maintaining command. A lower arm slot had flattened out his 95 mph fastball, making it easier to hit.

Pitching coach Mack Jenkins got Wood to use a split-fingered fastball and be less predictable when he located to each side of the plate.

"I think Mack Jenkins, in particular, did a really good job with identifying how he was utilizing his stuff, and introducing that to him so he could work differently," Price said. "It made a big difference for his performance."

The rest was up to Wood.

"I put pressure on the hitter, which was key," Wood said. "I was really focusing on getting ahead of guys a little more."

In the process, Wood made DeShields' recommendation look good.

"I was talking to Blake a few days ago and told him, 'I'm glad you got your [stuff] together,'" DeShields said. "I knew it was in him."

In camp this spring, Wood has the pressure off despite not knowing what type of relief role he might have as the club retooled its bullpen.

"You always feel like you have to prove yourself every year, but maybe you try a little harder that first year," Wood said. "This year I understand the organization and have a good relationship with the coaches and all of the guys in the clubhouse. It's definitely a lot easier coming back in here knowing I came off of a solid season. I will try to build off of that."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Blake Wood