Inside an office at SunTrust Park, a brand-new stadium situated in the suburbs of Atlanta, Braves general manager John Coppolella engaged in what has become an annual ritual. He apologized to his fans for trading Alex Wood to the Dodgers.
Coppolella did not engage in dramatics. No news conference was required — the industry understands how the Dodgers benefited from the deal. Coppolella was responding to a fan on Twitter on Friday morning. His tone was blunt.
The complicated three-team trade that brought Wood to Los Angeles in the summer of 2015 was, in Coppolella’s words, “terrible” for his team. “Alex is a tremendous pitcher,” he wrote, “and an even better person.” Stunned and saddened by the deal two years ago, Wood has recovered to establish himself as a vital cog for the Dodgers, a pitcher who logged 7 1/3 scoreless innings in a 7-2 victory over Miami on Friday at Dodger Stadium.
The outing extended a recent string of dominance: Wood (5-0, 1.88 ERA) has strung together 20 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. He had not pitched this deep in a game since Sept. 16, 2016. He induced a slew of ground outs. The defense behind him turned four double plays.
“Any way you can get zeroes is good,” Wood said. “I felt good tonight.”
Unbowed by an injury to third baseman Justin Turner, the Dodgers (25-18) turned to their vaunted, venerated depth to collect a third victory in a row. Chris Taylor and Brett Eibner began the season in triple-A Oklahoma City. When Logan Forsythe returns from the disabled list Tuesday, Taylor could see his playing time decrease and Eibner could return to the Pacific Coast League. On Friday, though, both delivered home runs, before Cody Bellinger launched a two-run shot in the eighth.
The teams saved some histrionics for the end. After Bellinger went deep, Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos drilled Eibner. In response, Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling threw behind Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. The benches cleared, and within the ensuing scrum, Marlins manager Don Mattingly bulled toward Dodgers bench coach Bob Geren. Stripling, Geren and Mattingly were all ejected.
“Things were taken care of,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We just have to move on.”
It is unclear how the drama might affect the rest of the series. The discrepancy in talent between the two clubs has already become clear.
The trio of Wood, Taylor and Eibner exemplify the low-profile acquisitions who have allowed the Dodgers to survive injuries to veterans (Turner, Forsythe, Andre Ethier) and whiffs on the free-agent market (Scott Kazmir). The maneuvers demonstrate the organization’s ability to boost the margins of its roster. The team acquired Taylor from Seattle for Zach Lee, a former first-round pick who entered Friday with a 5.62 earned-run average in the minors. For Eibner, the Dodgers sent infielder Jordan Tarsovich to Oakland. Tarsovich was hitting .200 in double A before Friday. And the agita inspired by Wood’s departure in Atlanta is well-known.
On Friday night, Wood was making his first start since being named National League player of the week for his efforts last week, when he struck out 21 batters in two outings. The performance earned him another start, despite his team’s overcrowded rotation. When Kenta Maeda comes off the disabled list next week, the Dodgers will again be juggling seven pitchers for five spots. Roberts has not tipped his hand on how he will handle the logjam.
Wood did not strike out a batter until the third inning Friday. By then, his teammates had provided a 1-0 lead. The Dodgers scratched a first-inning run off Justin Nicolino, a spindly, 25-year-old left-hander making his second start in 2017. Austin Barnes nudged an RBI groundout down the first-base line with the bases loaded.
Taylor had started the first-inning sequence with a leadoff double. He ended up being thrown out at the plate two batters later. In the third, he devised a way to avoid a repeat: When Nicolino spotted a fastball on the outside of the plate, Taylor drove the ball to right field. Stanton, Miami’s 6-foot-6 cornerstone, scaled the wall. His outstretched frame could not prevent Taylor’s fifth home run of the season.
“Sometimes when you get into a groove, the game slows down,” Taylor said. “And lately that’s how it’s felt for me.”
After an RBI single by Enrique Hernandez in the third, Yasiel Puig led off the fourth with a walk, despite wincing on a check swing and requiring an inspection from the training staff at first base. Eibner came up with one out. He had homered six days earlier, only to get optioned to the minors two days later. Now he crushed a 90-mph fastball from Nicolino for a two-run shot.
The game complicated any plans for Eibner’s departure. Puig left after the inning due to back tightness.
Roberts allowed Wood to start the eighth. The Marlins gained traction with a pair of singles. After a line out by outfielder Christian Yelich, Roberts left the dugout to remove Wood. The crowd leapt to its feet to salute his evening.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, nearly 2,200 miles away the general manager who sent Wood west could understand why.