Perseverance Paying Off For Georgia's Alex Wood
BATON ROUGE, La.—Most of Alex Wood's outings for Georgia this spring have been like his start in Week 12 against Auburn, when he struck out 10 over eight strong innings, allowing just two runs.
Wood's consistency—he is 6-2, 2.68 with 87 strikeouts and 19 walks in 91 innings—is an illustration of how far he's come in a year. But the way the redshirt sophomore lefthander persevered when he had his worst command a week earlier against LSU reveals just as much about his maturation.
On a night when his changeup lacked its usual disappearing life and his fastball location was off, Wood still gutted his way through seven innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits and getting the Tigers to strand the bases loaded in his final frame.
"That's the worst he's thrown the ball in a year and a half. He was just too jacked, too pumped," Georgia coach David Perno said of the start in Baton Rouge. "Wood wouldn't have been able to survive throwing the ball like that last year. He would have been in there for four and a third or five innings maybe. When you're bad or unlucky and you still give your team a chance to win, that showed me the maturity."
Wood showed flashes of brilliance as a redshirt freshman in 2011, like when he beat No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole of UCLA and first-team All-American Michael Roth of South Carolina in back-to-back weeks on the road in March. But the rest of his season was up and down, and he finished the year 6-7, 4.44 in 101 innings.
That was Wood's first full season back after missing nearly all of 2010 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Bulldogs shut him down after the heavy workload, and he spent the offseason working to develop a curveball and trying to tighten up his glove side, which had a tendency to get loose during his delivery, as Perno put it.
"Last year, everything was hard—I was throwing that slider," Wood said. "Even my changeup's got pretty decent velocity; it's more a power out-pitch. That's the biggest reason to throw my breaking ball—it's got such a big difference in velocity. We just wanted to get something that was different so everything wasn't hard-hard-hard."
Wood's fastball sits at 91-93 mph and regularly touches 94 or better, and he holds that velocity deep into games. He has good feel for his 83-84 mph changeup—which he calls his best pitch and his favorite—and he tends to pitch exclusively with those two offerings the first couple times through the order, he said. But later in games, he'll surprise hitters with his 76 mph curveball, which he throws for a called strike or a ground ball.
Wood's breaking ball is serviceable as a change-of-pace pitch, but scouts still harbor doubts about his ability to spin good ones consistently. They also have expressed some concerns about the violence in his delivery, including a backwards hop with his landing leg, but some of that funk also adds deception.
And scouts laud Wood for his aggressiveness.
"I definitely am not afraid to go at somebody," Wood said. "I throw a lot of fastballs, and I like to make people earn what they get off me. Whatever they earn, that's good for them. But more times than not, I'm going to go right at you."
Perno raves about the way Wood has embraced a leadership role alongside senior Michael Palazzone in his second year on the mound at Georgia. He's on the top step of the dugout when he isn't pitching, fully engaged in the game and offering feedback on opposing hitters to his teammates and coaches.
Wood talks a lot about "controlling the controllables," a phrase you'll hear often from Texas coach Augie Garrido, and making sure everybody just does his own job. He refuses to get discouraged by Georgia's seemingly endless stream of bad luck over the last three years, and he remains confident that he can help lead the Bulldogs on a deep postseason run.
"All I know is, when I'm out there and Palazzone's out there, and we're playing good baseball, I'd hate to be the other team, and I'd hate to be somebody who has to face us in a regional," Wood said. "When Pally and me are out there, we're as tough to beat as anybody in the country."