Dodgers turn to Wood as dominant lefty in Kershaw’s absence
LOS ANGELES (AP) — With Clayton Kershaw sidelined by injury, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in need of a dominant left-hander.
Baseball’s best team need look no farther than one locker past Kershaw’s in the clubhouse. Alex Wood has been doing his best impression of the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner for the last several weeks.
He won his first 10 decisions, the first Dodgers starter to do so since Don Newcombe in 1955, when the Brooklyn Dodgers won the first of the franchise’s six World Series championships.
“I’m trying my best to just stay in the moment and give our team a chance to win,” Wood said. “As long as I can do that, I feel like I’m accomplishing what I’m trying to accomplish and it’s been really good so far. It’s been fun.”
Wood has already replaced Kershaw once this season, taking his spot on the NL All-Star team after Kershaw was ineligible because he had pitched two days before the game. He’s ready to do it again as long as Kershaw is sidelined by a back injury.
Wood takes an 11-1 record and 2.17 ERA into Friday night’s start against the San Francisco Giants. He is coming off his lone bad outing of the season, a 12-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves last week in which he gave up a career-high nine runs (seven earned) on a season-high nine hits in 4 2/3 innings.
It was Wood’s first defeat since May 30, 2016.
At home, Wood is 12-3 with a 2.10 ERA in 24 career games (10 starts) at Dodger Stadium, where he has struck out 131 batters and walked 31.
Wood has enjoyed an up-close view of Kershaw’s work ethic and tenacity, traits the 26-year-old left-hander admires.
“It’s hard not to notice that even if you’re pretty blind to a lot of things,” Wood said. “He’s special and even to be mentioned in the same breath as him is pretty cool. He puts in the work, he expects his teammates to put in the work, and he makes you want to work harder.”
Wood has had to do just that, having missed nearly four months last year after surgery to correct an impingement in his left elbow. He was limited to 14 appearances, including 10 starts. He went 1-4 with a 3.73 ERA.
Wood began this season in the Dodgers’ bullpen. He was on the disabled list with inflammation of the SC joint in his left shoulder and didn’t make a start from May 26 to June 10.
After that, he began his unbeaten roll.
Wood rarely shows his emotions, aside from an occasional fist pump, which has impressed catcher Yasmani Grandal. He cites Wood’s “determination to do what he’s trying to do out there on the mound, never getting too up or too down, and staying steady the whole first half” as keys to the youngster’s success.
Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Marty Reed oversaw Wood when he was pitching coach at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2013 and ’14.
“He’s a really great guy, really easygoing, but, man, he’s a shark on the mound, a killer on the mound,” Reed said. “He wants to go after you. When you see him doing it in competition you know, ‘This guy’s different.’”
Future Atlanta teammate Mike Foltynewicz thought the same thing when he caught Wood pitching on TV in 2014. Wood was in his second season starting for the Braves against the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke in Los Angeles.
Wood held the Dodgers to six hits and one run over seven innings, leaving with the game tied 1-all. The Braves ended up losing 3-2, but Foltynewicz knew he had seen something special.
“He’s got all the tools and he’s putting it together,” he said. “His funky windup brings a lot to the table. He’s very deceptive. He’s got a sneaky fastball, a great changeup, a good curveball. It’s awesome to see what he’s doing.”
Wood spent parts of his first three seasons in the majors with the Braves, who drafted him out of Georgia.
Before this season, Wood had a 6-10 record and 4.06 ERA in 26 appearances (22 starts) since the 2015 three-way trade that brought him to Los Angeles from Atlanta. He also walked 43 batters in 130 2/3 innings.
Not exactly All-Star stats.
But still, there was something about Wood.
“It’s like when I had Clayton when he was a kid,” Reed recalled. “He was different. I told people when he came up, ‘I don’t want to say this guy is going to be Sandy Koufax but, damn, he’s going to be the closest thing.’”
Reed feels the same way about Wood.
“They’ve got a pretty good setup with those two guys,” he said. “Not just on the pitching side. You’re not going to find two finer human beings than both of those guys.”
Associated Press freelancer Tim Liotta contributed to this report.
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