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Wood produces 'best start I've had'
Braves prospect allows one run, four hits over seven innings
05/26/2013 1:35 AM ET
Alex Wood has allowed two home runs over 102 2/3 innings as a pro.
Alex Wood has allowed two home runs over 102 2/3 innings as a pro. (Ed Gardner/MiLB.com)

At this point, the toughest part about being in Double-A for Alex Wood might just be that he's still in Double-A.

"It's my first full year," the 2012 second-round Draft pick said. "Probably the hardest thing is just telling myself to take it a day at a time and trust in the Braves."

The Braves' No. 5 prospect continued to dominate the Southern League on Saturday night, allowing a run on four hits over seven innings, as Mississippi held off Mobile, 9-8.

Wood (4-2) struck out seven batters and walked two as his ERA actually inched up to 1.26 through nine starts. Opponents are hitting .198 against him with just one home run -- former Braves prospect Nick Ahmed delivered that blow on Saturday.

"It was a changeup," Wood said. "I threw two of them in a row to Ahmed and he put a good swing on it and backspun it out to left field. "Looking back on it, I shouldn't have doubled up on the changeups with him. I threw him a really good one on the first one, but he hadn't been catching up to my fastball, so, yeah. It was one of the few mistakes I made tonight."

The 22-year-old left-hander was excellent otherwise, saying he thought it was "the best start I've had, as far as having all three of my pitches going good."

Wood product was drafted with a plus fastball and plus changeup already in his tool belt, but he lacked a quality breaking pitch. He finally found one he was comfortable with in Spring Training -- a knuckle-curve taught to him by Braves relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.

The new grip immediately gave Wood a more useable offering, which helped him string together five straight scoreless outings from April 17-May 9.

The pitch has gotten better in recent weeks as the University of Georgia product has worked to improve his command of the offering and throw it more in the strike zone.

"I really made a conscious effort in my last two starts and in the [bullpen sessions] in between where I want to start throwing it for strikes on a more consistent basis," he said. "I think I've figured out what I need to do to do that. I've been happy with the progress I've made from that standpoint."

Improved command is especially helpful for Wood against left-handed hitters, against whom his changeup is somewhat less effective.

"Usually, I can take care of [left-handers] early in the game with just my fastball command, moving the ball in and out," he said. "It's really good because now I can get them off the fastball."

Wood used the pitch with success against BayBears left-handers Ender Inciarte and Mike Freeman. The duo went 0-for-6 with three groundouts, two fly balls and a strikeout against him.

So enthused is Wood by his new curveball, he's gone out of his way to push teammate J.R. Graham to adopt the offering. Graham recently caved and began using the spike curve, and the Braves' No. 4 prospect has found similar results -- something that doesn't surprise Wood.

"We're kind of the same pitcher, except that he's right-handed and I'm left-handed," Wood said. "He kind of has the same deal as I have had up until this year, where he's trying to figure out that breaking pitch.

"I was able to pick up my spike curve from Jonny and Craig, and I had kind of been hinting at [Graham], 'Try it out, see how you like it.' Really, when you throw it, the grip itself helps you get on top of the ball without really trying to. For hard-throwers like him and me, it helps us both out."

Graham hasn't pitched since May 13 after landing on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain, but Wood said he'is "itching to get back out there and throw it some more."

Both pitchers are knocking on the door for promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett or Atlanta. The big league Braves already have five quality starters in the rotation and another on the way as Brandon Beachy continues his rehab, so there isn't much room for advancement.

When the call does come, Wood thinks he'll be more than ready.

"I write it down after most of my starts to just take it a day at a time and keep throwing well," said Wood, who keeps a journal with him through the season. "Whatever happens, happens. Whenever that day comes to go to Gwinnett or to Atlanta, that'll be the right time for me."

Jake Seiner is a contributor at MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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