In the summer before his junior year of high school, Alex Wood sat at a computer and composed a series of emails. He addressed them to the coaches at the 15 to 20 colleges where he wanted to play baseball. He was a gangly left-hander from Charlotte, N.C., with a goofy delivery, but he exhibited enough confidence to showcase himself.
One of the respondents was David Perno, who ran the baseball program at the University of Georgia. Perno went to see Wood at a showcase event that fall. The mechanics looked strange, and Wood’s mien was “non-athletic,” Perno recalled. On the mound, though, he turned ferocious.
“He was like a quiet assassin,” Perno said. “There wasn’t a lot of emotion. But you could see it in his eyes, in his demeanor.… He was going to be better than you that day.”
Wood carried that attitude through three years at Georgia. He still harbors it in his role as the most malleable member of the Dodgers pitching staff in 2017. He feels compelled to prove himself, and on a team as deep as these Dodgers (8-8), that quality is indispensable.
Wood (1-0, 1.00 earned-run average) will make his second start of the season Friday in Arizona. He is auditioning for a job he may not be able to win — at least not permanently. The uncertainty with Rich Hill’s blister created an opening for Wood. But the Dodgers do not expect Hill to miss the entirety of the season, and Manager Dave Roberts has mentioned Julio Urias’ impending arrival in late April.
That leaves Wood in limbo. The situation allowed the Dodgers to observe Wood as a reliever and perhaps forecast his role for later in the season. He gave up two runs in 3 2/3 innings in a spot start against the Cubs early this month. The revelation thus far is his performance in two dynamic, multi-inning appearances of scoreless relief.
As a starter, Wood’s fastball sat around 90 mph. His velocity jumped to 94-95 mph in those relief outings, according to Brooks Baseball. He faced 19 batters and did not allow a hit.
“Woody’s been tremendous,” President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said. “The velo and life on the fastball, both off-speed pitches have been really good. We were confident coming into spring training. But then watching the way he performed in spring training only gave us more confidence. And how he’s come out of the gate has only strengthened that.”
Despite Wood’s 3.39 career ERA as a starter, some rival scouts harbor doubts about his ability to excel in the rotation. In 2016, he held opposing hitters to a .572 on-base plus slugging percentage in the first turn through the order. On his second pass through, the opposing OPS rose to .660. By the third time, the OPS mushroomed to .879. For context, Corey Seager led the Dodgers with an .877 OPS last season.
For years, many talent evaluators viewed Wood’s true calling as a high-leverage reliever. The gawkiness of his…