By Jon Weisman
When Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” was published in 1940, it flew in the face of Major League Baseball’s reserve clause, which forced players into homecomings year after year.
Then again, Wolfe had died two years earlier, so by that point, he really couldn’t go home again.
Anyway, the return of University of Georgia alum and former Braves lefty Alex Wood to Atlanta tonight is front of mind for the 24-year-old pitcher, as these stories Mike DiGiovanna of the Times and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com indicate.
“I’ve had it circled on my calendar for a while,” Wood said, according to Gurnick. “I’m excited about it, have a lot of family coming in for it, my friends. That’s where I lived. It’ll be fun, for sure.”
Dustin Nosler of Dodgers Digest takes the opportunity to reconcile the apparent contradiction between Wood’s increased velocity and decreased strikeout rate in 2016.
“Wood is making up for the lack of strikeouts by getting a lot of ground balls,” Nosler wrote. “He’s seventh in the majors with a 63.2 percent ground ball rate. He’s also getting some of the softest contact of any starter (35 percent).”
Pitching seven innings of one-run ball in his most recent start, April 13 against Arizona, Wood set down the last 11 batters he faced before giving up a leadoff single in the eighth inning and coming out of the game. Amid increasing concern about how he (and other pitchers in general) will fare the third time through the order, it’s the hope of Wood and the Dodgers that he is ready to make a statement.
“It was nice to see him get over that hump,” Dave Roberts said, according to DiGiovanna. “The key was working ahead and spinning the baseball. He trusts his fastball, but that third time through, he kept them off balance with the breaking ball and changeup, then set them up with the fastball. It’s a little cat-and-mouse, but he was outstanding.”
It’s all part of Wood’s vision for 2016, which he talked about with Dodger Insider during the past offseason — to return to a level of reliability he enjoyed during his best days with Atlanta. In his 14 starts with the Dodgers, Wood has allowed two runs or less in exactly half.
“I still had a pretty decent year, but for me, it wasn’t up to the standards that I’ve kind of set for myself,” Wood said in November. “It was a good year, but it was the worst year I’ve had so far. … I was really, really good some outings, and then I had some bad outings. For me, I’ve always founds my success in the consistency of my performances.”
That’s the kind of homecoming Wood is really aiming for tonight.