Alex Wood allowed his upper lip to curl into a grin. His employers intend to use these next six weeks to determine the left-hander's place in the Dodgers' pitching constellation. Wood intends to leave them no choice.
"I'm going to be in the rotation," Wood said. "That's the plan. That's the thing I hate about the off-season, about spring training. I'm more about action than about talk. I plan on being in the rotation. And I don't plan on leaving."
Wood used the fall to heal the bone bruise that dogged him after he joined the Dodgers last summer. He used the winter to repair the delivery that malfunctioned along the way. He plans to use this spring to cement himself as a member of the starting staff.
As the Dodgers prepare for 2016, four spots in the rotation look filled. The fifth depends upon the viability of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is returning from shoulder surgery at a measured pace. Wood headlines the list of candidates needed if Ryu is not ready.
At 25, Wood is not far removed from a 2014 season in which he finished with a 2.78 earned-run average for the Atlanta Braves and struck out nearly a batter per inning. The Dodgers caught hints of that pitcher after he arrived as part of a three-team trade in late July. They also watched him post a 4.35 ERA in 12 starts after the trade and give up four runs in two playoff innings.
"He had some nicks and bruises and some things that he was dealing with last year," Dodgers General Manager Farhan Zaidi said. "I absolutely don't think we saw the best he had to offer. We saw it in little glimpses."
Wood believed he could rebound in his first full season as a Dodger. The behavior of his bosses this winter did not reflect a vote of confidence. The team brought in lefty Scott Kazmir and righty Kenta Maeda. With Ryu on the mend, Wood moved to the fringe of the conversation.
During the winter, Manager Dave Roberts reached out to Wood to start a dialogue. He told Wood not to be disheartened and encouraged him to embrace the competition of the coming spring. Wood insisted he would do so.
"As a young player, to have a clear, defined role, absolutely, it's easier on the mind," Roberts said. "Without a doubt. But sometimes circumstances, that's not the way it is."
Back in July, the Dodgers acquired a pitcher with a compromised delivery. In his final start as a Brave, Wood rolled his right ankle on a play covering first base. A bone bruise developed in his foot, which stung with each landing.
The best remedy for a bone bruise is extended rest, Wood explained. That option made little sense as the Dodgers drove toward the playoffs. So he managed the discomfort, even if he could not make certain adjustments requested by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
"That's a pretty important part of your delivery to lose," Honeycutt said.
Even as Wood rose through the Braves' minor league system, rival talent evaluators wondered about the long-term reliability of his pitching motion. Wood hides the baseball in his left hand behind his legs before he lurches toward the plate with a three-quarter delivery. He admitted his movements were unorthodox, but he felt confident in his ability to repeat it.
Repetition became more difficult as the playoffs approached. His arm slot dropped below its usual level. He drifted during his motion and failed to drive the baseball low in the zone. With his foot ailing, he could make only minor alterations.
"I had already gotten into some bad habits mechanically," Wood said. "So it was a long off-season full of trying to get back to where I needed to be."
Wood starred at the University of Georgia before Atlanta drafted him in 2012, and he trained this winter at Georgia Tech. The pain in his foot scattered by December. He spent five days a week doing drills to solidify his delivery and eliminate the blemishes.
Wood is not the only starter at Roberts' disposal. Mike Bolsinger made 21 starts for the Dodgers last season. Brandon Beachy is nearly two years removed from his second Tommy John surgery. Wood could serve as a swingman, capable of soaking up multiple innings in the bullpen.
This is not his plan.
"All I need is the opportunity, and I'll go from there," Wood said. "I plan on throwing well and not giving them a choice."