Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Alex Wood (40) pitches in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field. (USA TODAY Sports: Daniel Shirey)
Though the season is still young, the Braves rotation is quickly establishing itself as one of the best in the National League, if not all of Major League Baseball.
Coming into their game against the Phillies Thursday, Atlanta’s starters had the best ERA (1.62) and were tied for the best opponents’ batting average (.204) in the majors. The youngest member of the rotation, Alex Wood, did nothing to slow that down, throwing eight innings of one-run ball, though he would take a 1-0 loss due to a complete lack of offensive support.
“Baseball’s a contagious game,” Wood said. “It’s your livelihood, it’s your career, guys are going to try to go out there and one-up what everybody did the day before.”
The day before Wood, it was Julio Teheran (2-1, 1.93 ERA) who was dominant, throwing a complete-game shutout in a 1-0 win in the Braves favor. Friday’s starter is Aaron Harang, who’s 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA through his first three starts. Wood’s 2-2 with a 1.67 ERA, Ervin Santana’s 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA and David Hale is 0-0 with a 2.89 ERA in two starts of his own.
What’s scary is that this is a rotation that could get even better. Gavin Floyd, who underwent Tommy John surgery last May, has already thrown three rehab starts with Triple-A Gwinnett and is scheduled to pitch for Double-A Mississippi on April 18; he could return by the end of the month.
“I look at it this way — sometimes you feel like you’ve got too much, but you never do,” Gonzalez said. “And if we do, then we filter some of those guys into the bullpen, and our bullpen becomes that much better, and we’ve got a nice corps of arms.”
The Braves organization is one that’s used to dominant pitching rotations, though it’s been a few years since Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz made up one of the most fearsome pitching trios of the the 1990s. Gonzalez, who was in the Marlins’ organization as a coach at various levels from 1992-2010, knows what kind of beneficial competition that can create when you have one good arm going out after another.
“You hear about it all the time, you hear about those rotations that you’ve got three or four good starters and they just want to one-up each other,” Gonzalez said. “When the Madduxes, the Smoltzes and the Glavines were here, you’d hear a conversation from Bobby (Cox), saying these guys just want to keep the competition.”
—LHP Alex Wood threw eight innings of one-run baseball, his first career complete game, to lower his ERA to 1.67 in his first full season in the major leagues. The 23-year-old did a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone, getting three double plays in the first four innings. He also picked up his first career walk in 31 plate appearances, but was unable to lay down a key sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning. “Here’s a kid who’s 23 years old, just came out of college two years ago, and they DH there, so we just need him to get better,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
—2B Dan Uggla went 0-for-3 to drop his average down to .212 after knocking out five hits in his last three games. The 34-year-old veteran had seen his average dip as low as .176 in the early goings; after putting together a .287 average during the 2010 season, he’s hit at just a .214 clip in the 465 games since.
—1B Freddie Freeman was the only player on the Braves lineup to reach base twice, drawing a walk in the first inning and picking up a single in the sixth. The 24-year-old slugger is hitting .289 with four home runs and 10 RBIs thus far on the season, with eight walks against just seven strikeouts. His career walk-to-strikeout ratio is below 1:2, at this pace he’ll shatter his season marks for walks (66 last year) and fall short of his career high in strikeouts (142 in 2011).
—OF Jason Heyward’s slump continued with an 0-for-4 day that dropped his average to .136 through his first 59 at-bats; he has just two hits in his last 27 at-bats (.074). The former 2007 first-round pick batted .277 as a rookie back in 2010 but hasn’t topped that number in the four years since.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “When you get two back-to-back games that are both 1-0 … they say hitting is contagious, I think pitching is contagious, too. Two good performances by (Julio) Tehran yesterday and (Alex) Wood today, (Phillies’ starter Cliff) Lee yesterday and A.J. (Burnett) today.” — Braves manager Freddy Gonzalez.