HOUSTON - Just six days after Gavin Floyd fractured his elbow, the Braves showed why they didn’t flinch – because they still had Alex Wood in their back pocket.
On the same day Floyd underwent surgery to have screws inserted in his elbow, Wood rejoined the Braves rotation and pitched like he’d never left. He dominated the Astros for seven shutout innings to lead the Braves to a 4-0 win.
Justin Upton stepped into his spotlight long enough to hit a majestic two-run home run in the seventh, his second at Minute Maid Park in as many days, for his 16th of the season and a little extra cushion for Wood.
Freddie Freeman put the only damper on Wood’s night when he left in the seventh inning after being hit in the right elbow by a Darin Downs pitch. Freeman had played every inning in the field for the Braves all season – one of only three National Leaguers who could say that, along with Starlin Castro and Hunter Pence – before Chris Johnson moved over from third base to replace him in the eighth.
Wood had been making a 1-0 lead stand up from the second inning until Upton sent a 3-1 pitch from Collin McHugh into the Astros bullpen in right center field.
Wood was making his first ever trip to Texas to rejoin the Braves rotation after spending six weeks in the bullpen and the last couple stretching out in the minors.
His idea of stretching out Wednesday night was to make 49 pitches get him through five innings, and 66 through six. Wood used eight groundball outs and four flyball outs to keep his pitch count down, knowing manager Fredi Gonzalez wasn’t going to let him go longer than 90 to 100 pitches. Wood had been gunning for a quality start and did better than that – pitching seven innings, allowing only three hits, one walk and striking out four.
Wood gave up a double to Dexter Fowler two pitches into the game and wouldn’t allow another runner to reach base until Jon Singleton doubled to center with two outs in the fourth. Singleton’s ball went all the way up Tal’s hill in center field and lodged under the fence, forcing him to go back to second base. He was stranded there after Wood got Matt Dominguez to ground out.
Minute Maid Park is supposed to be a hitter’s park. Wednesday night it belonged to the pitchers for much of the night.
The name Collin McHugh might not ring a bell, but it should. Not only is he from Lilburn, went to high school at Providence Christian, and got drafted out of Berry College. He came into Wednesday night’s start leading the American League with a .192 opponents’ batting average. He showed his hometown team why.
Evan Gattis doubled on a ball down the line just past third base and the Braves manufactured a 1-0 lead on a Justin Upton sacrifice fly. McHugh wouldn’t allow another run until Upton’s home run in the seventh. He struck out nine batters in the meantime, in his first ever start against his hometown team.
McHugh had faced the Braves once in relief during his cup of coffee with the Mets, in Sept. 30, 2012, giving up two runs in an inning.