The No. 2 starter for the Dodgers, who juggled their rotation with so much regularity that no role can ever be written in ink, smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s an honor to be in our rotation, period,” Alex Wood said Thursday night after pitching four scoreless innings against the Cleveland Indians in his third start of the spring. “Obviously, it’s not much of a competition for who is starting opening day around here. We’ve got the best pitcher of our generation toeing it up.”
Indeed, on March 29 against the San Francisco Giants, Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to break a franchise record with his eighth-consecutive season-opening start. Wood appears slated to follow him a day later, with Kenta Maeda lined up in the No. 3 spot, followed by Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The placement of Maeda, the lone right-hander in the group, is strategic. His presence would break up a quartet of left-handers. Wood earned his position behind Kershaw after a breakout performance in 2017. Wood made his first All-Star team and finished with a 16-3 record and 2.74 earned-run average.
Wood buzzed through the Indians lineup Thursday, facing one batter over the minimum and striking out five. He struck out shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Jose Ramirez with a pair of curveballs in the first inning. He struck out two more in the second. After the defense turned a double play behind him in the fourth, Wood fanned slugger Edwin Encarnacion to end his outing.
Wood credited a series of adjustments made during his bullpen session after his second Cactus League start. He concentrated on speeding up movement of his front leg to sync up his timing.
“Just keep making little tiny adjustments to see where things take me,” he said. “And to get them to really click and feel like a puzzle piece. I felt like I had a good idea going into my ’pen of something I just wanted to add into it. My stuff was really good in my ’pen, and I was glad I was able to translate to today.”
Wood has been pitching exclusively out of the stretch this spring. He ditched the windup during the offseason after struggling to repeat his delivery in the second half of last season. His fastball velocity dipped and his vulnerability to homers skyrocketed.
During his first two springs as a Dodger, Wood competed for a spot in the rotation. Now that his position is secured, he has not dimmed his zeal for improvement.
“There’s not many guys who come into camp and don’t have a worry in the world, you know what I mean?” Wood said. “Not many at all, anywhere you go. ... You always have that tunnel vision, where you’re continuously working. You put the pedal to the metal. That’s the mindset I’ve always had to have, in every situation I’ve been in.”
JANSEN SET FOR CACTUS LEAGUE DEBUT
As the Dodgers filtered out of the Camelback Ranch clubhouse Thursday afternoon, a football whistled through the air. The would-be quarterback was a familiar one, closer Kenley Jansen. The receiver was a fresh face: Austin Dillon, a stock-car racer who last month won the Daytona 500.
“Is he playing catch with Kenley right now?” asked manager Dave Roberts as Jansen and Dillon goofed around out of his line of sight. “It’s just great, because it’s one of those things where baseball players love celebrities, and [guys who do] other things that we can’t do. It’s fun to watch Austin playing catch with Kenley, talking about driving a race car, and ‘How fast have you gone?’ All the questions were pretty hilarious.”
Jansen has had plenty of time to kill this spring. He will make his Cactus League debut Friday against the Kansas City Royals after appearing in a minor league game Monday. Roberts plans to use Jansen in only two big-league outings before the regular season begins. The organization sees little need in wearing out their one-inning relievers this early in camp.
That approach is not unique to Jansen, Roberts explained. Neither right-handed reliever Josh Fields nor left-handed reliever Tony Cingrani has pitched in a game yet.
Cingrani will face competition before Fields, who was sidelined briefly because of an illness. Cingrani is expected to pitch by this weekend, while Fields is “just a tick behind,” Roberts said.
“In spring training, to build those guys up doesn’t take a whole lot,” Roberts said. “We just want to make sure they feel good, and strong.”