ATLANTA -- After utilizing Alex Wood in the eighth inning of Sunday's win over the Cubs, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he the rookie left-hander would continue to serve as reliever through the postseason.
Though Wood has shown some signs of fatigue as he nears the end of his first full professional season, Gonzalez said the decision to move him from starter to reliever was solely influenced on the need to strengthen a bullpen that has become an area of concern over the past few weeks.
"There's a lot of pluses with him going into the bullpen," Gonzalez said. "It has nothing to do with the innings [he has completed]. It has everything to do with us being a better pitching staff."
Since posting a 0.90 ERA in five August starts, Wood has not completed five innings in any of the three starts that have followed. The late-season struggles are not completely surprising given the 22-year-old southpaw completed his playing career at the University of Georgia last year. He has combined to throw 137 2/3 innings between the Majors and Minors this year.
Wood's presence in the bullpen will provide the Braves a third left-handed reliever. The other two -- Scott Downs and Luis Avilan -- have struggled recently. Downs has allowed four earned runs and surrendered 10 hits while totaling just two innings in eight appearances this month. More troubling is the fact that left-handed hitters have batted .667 (6-for-9) against him during that span.
Avilan has at least provided some signs of encouragement while holding opponents scoreless in nine of his past 13 appearances. But he certainly has not been as dominant as he was earlier this season, when he did not allow an earned run in the 35 appearances he made from May 24-Aug. 14.
While allowing opponents to hit .297 and compile a .341 on-base percentage in his past 13 appearances, Avilan has been dealing with the added burden that has been placed on him since fellow setup man Jordan Walden strained his groin in late August. Walden has added to the bullpen concerns by proving ineffective in two of the three appearances he has made since missing nearly three weeks with the ailment.
With Wood capable of handling any late-inning situation, the Braves might be able to lessen the strain placed on Avilan. More importantly, it could provide Gonzalez a more dependable option than he has had recently.
Wood compiled a 2.29 ERA and limited opponents to a .264 on-base percentage in the 16 relief appearances he made before becoming a permanent fixture in Atlanta's bullpen in late July. During a two-pitch appearance in Sunday's win over the Cubs, he induced a double play that allowed the Braves to escape a potentially damaging eighth-inning threat.
"Looking ahead, I think he will be a big piece for us coming out of that bullpen," Gonzalez said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less