Travis Wood Finds New Gear in New Role

I think we’ve all heard that old idiom about leaving it all out there on the field, draining yourself completely so that no questions remain as to your effort. That doesn’t really work for starting pitchers though, as you can’t just go balls-out every time you take the bump and hope to have an arm left in the 4th inning, let alone the 4th month of the season.

Ah, but it’s a little different for a reliever. Given that they may only pitch an inning or so, maybe two on occasion, they can really rare back and sling it with a bit more abandon than their stretched-out brethren. And that may even go double for those who have moved from one role to the other and who are basically in a no-lose situation.

Such is the case for Travis Wood, who hasn’t been categorized as a fireballer in the past. But upon being moved to the ‘pen in favor of fellow lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, Wood appears to have discovered a new gear in his heater, a pitch that has never averaged over 90 mph at any point in his career.

Since his first appearance out of the ‘pen on May 16th, Wood has embraced his role and even looks to be changing his approach and being more aggressive.

I know, right? It’s tough to really see in it in the numbers, since the deflated sample size makes everything (like the 12 K/9 and 9 BB/9 and 2.33 WHIP) look bigger. True to the numbers, he struck out two and walked one on Monday night against the Marlins. But while it’s hard to take inflated numbers like this too seriously yet, one increase is notable.

Over the course of seven starts this season, Wood’s fastball averaged only 88.8 mph, up slightly from last year’s 88.3. Given a deviation of maybe 2-3 mph either way, he was typically topping out around 91 or so. In his first relief appearance, the heater was clocking in at 90.1; in his second, 90.4; and in his third, 91.4.

It was much of the same on Monday, when Wood again averaged 91.4 by throwing 13 of his 28 pitches at or over 92 mph, including the final three of the appearance. Wood even reached 93 six times and 94 thrice. He was far from perfect, but I have to say I’m digging what I’m seeing.

Like Brett, I’m not sure I can find the words to describe what I was seeing from Wood earlier, though I almost got the sense that he was pitching not to lose. He knew his grasp on a rotation spot was tenuous and I think it may have made him a bit too tentative. Now, however, he just seems more willing to let it all hang out while attacking hitters.

Obviously, that’s only effective if he’s avoiding bats in the process, and not via walks either. Time will tell how this all works out, but it appears to me that Wood is becoming more comfortable coming on in relief and that as he continues to relish the role, he could potentially learn to thrive in it.

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