SURPRISE — Spring training, especially early in the Cactus (or Grapefruit) League, is all about finding a comfort zone, figuring out what works. Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood thinks he has found something that will work for him going forward, deciding to pitch exclusively from the stretch this year.
Wood made his first spring start on Monday, allowing two runs on two walks and a hit in his one inning in the Dodgers’ 9-6 win over the Rangers at Surprise Stadium.
“Everybody is making a big deal out of it, but it’s really not,” Wood said. “It’s not like I made some drastic change.”
The first two batters of the game for Texas walked, with Delino DeShields scoring on a one-out single and Shin Soo Choo stealing home as part of a double steal. Wood laughed when reminded that given how his outing went for five of his six batters faced under normal circumstances he would have been pitching out of the stretch anyway since runners were on base.
“My stuff was pretty good for the most part, my command just wasn’t fine tuned,” Wood said. “Mechanically I felt good. It’s just getting that time and tempo locked in.”
For Wood, the switch to pitching from the stretch exclusively was an attempt to simplify things, especially during the long season.
“Every pitcher gets out of whack at some point in time during the season and for him when you’re out of the stretch, eliminating variables from the windup, it’s just easier to detect,” manager Dave Roberts said. “For him it was about keeping it simple and feeling that he’s not going to compromise stuff, it made sense.”
For Wood velocity drop is a concern, especially a season after averaging 92.98 mph on his sinking fastball before the All-Star break in 2017 when he posted a 1.67 ERA and allowed two home runs in 80⅔ innings. But after the break that sinker decreased to 91.65 mph along with a 3.89 ERA with 13 home runs allowed in 71⅔ innings. Wood also missed time with two different stints on the disabled list with inflammation in the SC joint in his sternum, about which Wood said last week, “I probably should have rested it for longer than I did.”
With the switch to the stretch Wood doesn’t anticipate any velocity loss compared to when he was pitching out of the windup.
“No matter what range of velo I’m at throughout my career, as long as my stuff is sharp and crisp that’s when you perform,” Wood said. “I feel like my stuff has been good so far.”
With nobody on base last year, when Wood normally pitched out of the windup, opposing batters hit .238/.296/.388. With runners on base, when Wood was in the stretch position, batters hit .186/.240/.283. Across the majors the OPS with nobody on base was .738 compared to .766 with runners on base.
Wood said part of his second-half struggles in 2017 were due to his mechanics getting out of sorts, something that he believes pitching from the stretch will make things easier to correct as they happen going forward.
“It just made so much sense to me from a consistency standpoint. It raises your bar, mechanically,” Wood said. “When you make adjustments, they are easier to make throughout the course of the season. I feel really good about it.”
In the seventh inning minor leaguer Andrew Robinson pitched for the Dodgers and his first batter faced was Rangers outfielder Drew Robinson.
That’s right, Andrew Robinson and Drew Robinson.
A pair of relief pitchers made their returns to the mound for the Dodgers on Monday, each pitching a scoreless inning when a strikeout. Yimi Garcia pitched a scoreless second frame, in his first game action since April 22, 2016, after missing time with a biceps injury, knee surgery and then Tommy John surgery.
“It was great, especially for Yimi after two years,” Roberts said. “To get him out there there was a little energy and adrenaline and he went out and attacked.”
Adam Liberatore followed with a scoreless third inning, his first major league game since May 30, 2017, the bulk of his time missed with a left elbow strain.
New acquisition J.T. Chargois, who was claimed off waivers from Minnesota on Saturday, threw his first bullpen session in Dodgers camp on Monday. After missing the final five months of 2017 with a fracture in his right elbow Chargois is back to throwing again with no restrictions.
Chargois also threw two bullpen sessions in Twins camp before getting designated for assignment last week.
“The offseason definitely made the difference. I was able to get in the weight room and correct some things physically, and also see several coaches to get some mechanical issues worked out,” Chargois said. “That was the main issue with the health. There were some mechanical kinks that needed some fine tuning.”
The Dodgers and Rangers play again on Tuesday afternoon, but this time at Camelback Ranch (12:05 p.m. PT). Kenta Maeda starts for the Dodgers on Tuesday, with old friend Jesse Chavez starting on the mound for Texas. No radio or TV again.