Alex Wood last pitched on Sept. 26, two weeks ago Tuesday, a successful six-inning stint amid the final days of the Dodgers’ odd dash to the postseason. The next day, the left-hander learned he’d start either Game 3 or 4 of the National League division series.
Before the series began, the plan became for him to start Game 4, and that remained the plan until the Dodgers on Monday eliminated the need for a Game 4.
Now, Wood’s next start likely will come on 21 days of rest. The team is in wonderful shape, with four days to rest until its next game. But, for the 26-year-old All-Star, it is not an ideal situation.
“Anything can happen, always,” Wood said before the Dodgers clinched a National League Championship Series berth by beating Arizona 3-1 at Chase Field. “So, you just kind of go about your business the same way you would if I thought, 100%, I was pitching tomorrow.”
Wood said the Dodgers did not lay out an alternate plan in advance. He is operating under the assumption that he will throw some sort of simulated game in the coming days, as he did Wednesday to prepare for the possibility of pitching Tuesday.
Wood has pitched in three previous postseasons, each time in relief, and a segment of scouts always pegged him as a reliever in the long term. The bullpen was the Dodgers’ initial plan for him this season. He stretched out in spring training, but as the regular season neared and it became clear that he was bound for the bullpen, he admitted frustration.
“It’s lucky and unlucky that I’ve had success out of the bullpen,” Wood noted then. “If that’s what happens, that’s what happens.”
He lasted only one relief appearance before he was needed to start in place of Rich Hill in the season’s eighth game. That start was OK. His next game, again out of the bullpen, was better, and he permanently moved into the rotation. In May, he threw four consecutive scoreless starts. In July, he made his first All-Star game.
Wood has since ascended past three men who made the opening-day rotation over him: Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Brandon McCarthy.
“Our challenge to him was to go out there and pitch well, and he answered that challenge,” Roberts said. “I’m glad he made us eat our words.”
Wood is feisty. He is also confident enough and unafraid to say so that the trait stands out among hundreds of the world’s best ballplayers.
“Did I think that I would make more of an impact and be better suited to start?” Wood asked Monday. “Yeah. I had a pretty good year, and I feel good with where I’m at currently. This is the kind of thing that you live for.”
He dressed in turf shoes each night, but he tried to stay ready for the Dodgers’ first two NLDS games in case an emergency called for him to trot down to the bullpen.
Arizona’s planned Game 4 starter, Patrick Corbin, faced a similar fate. He tried to throw bullpen sessions at an intensity to match games, but found difficulty in doing so while remaining available in case his team needed him.
But Corbin’s season ended Monday night. Wood may yet be needed for two starts, and a relief appearance or two, this month. Retaining his form will be a challenge. And, at this point, so will maintaining enough stamina to finish four or five innings.
“It’s about rising to the occasion,” Wood said. “Anything that’s happened throughout the year, it’s kind of out the window. It’s about who wants the ball now and who is ready for this type of atmosphere, and I feel really excited about the opportunity that I’ve got.”
He’ll get it sometime.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura