The only worse first pitch in a season debut would be a pitch that led to injury. Aside from that, I can't think of anything worse than seeing a ball travel 420 feet to dead center field against a player deemed an arch nemesis of the team. As Carlos Gomez sprinted around the bases, I am sure a good deal of Braves country groaned.
Wood settled down, as much of you saw and many of you have read about. This series, "The Breakdown" will be a periodic piece going down to the nitty gritty of a player's performance in a game or over a stretch of time.
When healthy, the Brewers have a very potent lineup. Specifically, they should be great against left-handed pitchers this season. Gomez, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Kris Davis, Rickie Weeks, and Mark Reynolds all have substantial power. Jean Segura is one of the game's up and coming players, and Jonathan Lucroy is one of the more balanced offensive catchers in the national league. To top it off, all of those players are right-handed. This was no easy task for a left-handed youngster like Alex Wood.
Wood's assortment of pitches is the best on the Braves staff. He struggled with command at times, walking three batters in his seven innings of work. Of his 93 pitches, only 55 were thrown for strikes. To break that down even further, he threw just 37 strikes to 26 balls with his fastball last night, a ratio that will often lead to high walk rates. He did maintain solid velocity, with his minimum fastball velocity hitting 88.5 mph and his max reaching 92.7. He had a wider range last season, but that was due to pitching in relief at times -- which is conducive of higher velocity.
What Wood was able to do is get a great deal of ground balls -- to the tune of a 3.00 GB/FB ratio. He forced hitters into two double plays and recorded a 63.2% ground ball rate on the evening. Over the course of his professional career, Wood has been excellent at limiting the long ball. Although he did allow a home run on the first pitch, this should continue to be a big strength of his as he pounds the bottom half of the zone with all three of his pitches.
Changeups are the best way for leftie to neutralize righties, and without a quality changeup that was thrown for 11 strikes and just three balls, yesterday could have turned into a short outing for Wood. His changeup is his best pitch. With his funky delivery and quality fastball, he keeps hitters off balance as well as anyone could hope for a pitcher with his level of experience. His changeup also had more movement yesterday both horizontally and vertically, according to PITCHf/x than it did last season.
All in all, this could have been a struggle for Alex Wood. His first pitch sailed over the fence, he lacked fastball command, and he was facing a lineup of right-handed hitters with tons of power. Instead, even without his best stuff, Wood was able to get enough ground balls and utilize his changeup and curveball well enough to get out of jams, keep runs off the board, and go seven strong innings.
This start exemplifies what Alex Wood really is. Since he has three great pitches, when one struggles he has enough deception, velocity, and movement to be able to succeed against even the toughest of lineups. Don't be surprised to see more stellar performances out of Wood this season.