By Jon Weisman
So here we are, back in Los Angeles for a guaranteed three games in a row in the meaty midsection of the National League Championship Series.
Barring extra innings, the Dodgers have 27 innings to cover, with 11 pitchers to spread them around. (The 12th, presumably, would be held back for a potential Game 6 start, whether that’s Clayton Kershaw or — if Kershaw is moved up to Game 5 on three days’ rest — Kenta Maeda.)
Among the pitchers that puts into play is Alex Wood, the left-hander who has thrown four big-league innings since May, when he went on the 15-day disabled list with left posterior elbow soreness that led to (relatively) minor elbow surgery.
Wood retired 11 of the 13 batters he faced in the final two weeks of the regular season, allowing only a single and a walk while striking out four with one double play. But he was left off the Dodgers’ National League Division Series roster, meaning that he has gone another 16 days since appearing in a game.
So, a little antsy … ?
“Yeah, you could say that,” Wood said with a laugh before Monday’s off-day workout. “It’s been fun to watch those guys, but at the same time I’m just kind of champing at the bit, waiting for my opportunity to get in there and get my feet wet again. I feel great, and I’ve been trying to stay as sharp as possible.”
[mlbvideo id=”1206625783″ width=”550″ height=”308″ /]
Wood was only a little disappointed that he wasn’t on the NLDS roster, in part because he hadn’t set any expectation given his late-season return to the mound. The consolation prize of traveling with the Dodgers and being on call in case someone got hurt, he added, was meaningful.
“I felt fortunate and glad they wanted me to be part of that,” Wood said. “And also, it kind of keeps you engaged and sharp when you’re here and you’re doing the same things you’ve been doing all year. You’re with the guys and you’re going out and you’re throwing, you’re throwing your bullpens and trying to stay as sharp as possible. So from that standpoint, it wasn’t too difficult. It was just a matter of timing up everything and throwing when you needed to throw, and what I needed to do to be prepared if God forbid someone went down in the DS.”
The skill of “wait, wait and be ready” is a handy one to have now. For all their pitching concerns, the Dodgers left three relievers went unused in the first two games of the NLCS: Wood, Luis Avilán and Josh Fields, and no one besides Kershaw and Kenley Jansen has pitched since Saturday.
“It’s kind of a funny thing,” Wood said. “After having the first two games, you have a day off, so guys kind of want to throw side (sessions): Do this, do that. But then you know you’ve got three in a row coming up, and at this point anything can happen. You could be in there every day, or not at all. So it’s one of those things you’ve got to feel out and just be as prepared as possible.”
At a moment’s notice, Wood could be called upon to retire just one batter — or pitch multiple innings.
“I can do what they need me to do, whatever that may be,” he said. “It just depends on the situation and where we’re at. We’re carrying eight guys in the bullpen, so there’s a lot of arms and a lot of ways we can go about pitching these guys. … Everybody’s all hands on deck, ready to do what they need to do.”
[mlbvideo id=”723981683″ width=”550″ height=”308″ /]
Before he got hurt, Wood — still only 25 years old — was on a roll for the Dodgers. In six starts from April 29 to May 30, the Charlotte native had a 2.80 ERA and 50 strikeouts compared with eight walks in 35 1/3 innings. For the month of May, he led Major League pitchers with 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
This week, he gets to bring that promising arm into action, without the weight of seven consecutive months of pitching.
“It’s kind of different,” Wood said. “It’s the first time I’ve been injured my whole career. You’re semi-fresh, just because I haven’t thrown the workload that I’ve thrown every year for however long. From that standpoint, you feel good: a little more pep in your step, a little more life on it at this point in the year. Just biding my time, waiting to get into it.”