ATLANTA — Blake Wood graduated from North Gwinnett a class ahead of Charlie Blackmon and made it to the major leagues last season, a year earlier than his teammate with the Bulldogs and Georgia Tech.
At the start of this season, though, Wood was back in the minors. It was a short stay.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander made just three relief appearances with Omaha during the first week of the Class AAA season before being recalled by Kansas City. This time he appears to be with the Royals to stay.
Wood, 25, has been a mainstay as one of the setup men in the Kansas City bullpen, going 4-0 with a 2.97 ERA in 28 appearances. He has 33 strikeouts to 11 walks in 361⁄3 innings while posting a 1.18 WHIP and limiting opponents to a .239 batting average. Wood, a third-round draft choice of the Royals in 2007, had his moments last season after being brought up in mid-May, but battled control problems and also had issues holding runners on base.
In 51 appearances a year ago, Wood was 1-3 with a 5.07 ERA and had 22 walks to 31 strikeouts in 492⁄3 innings. Those were good enough numbers to guarantee a bullpen spot at the start of this and he was sent to the minors near the end of spring training.
But Wood didn’t allow a run or a walk in three outings the first week with Omaha and was quickly back with the Royals. Coming to a set position higher has quickened his delivery to the plate with runners on and he has been able to put his pitches where he wants them much more consistently.
Wood has found that little things can make a big difference.
“It’s simple stuff,” Wood said recently. “Getting ahead a little more, down in the zone a little more. Slider’s a little better, little quicker to the plate. Stuff that if you just watch a couple of games no one would ever notice (the changes) this year from last year, but it’s a big difference to me.
“You don’t really need to make wholesale changes. Just little tweaks here and there are all it takes to go from being below average to above average.”
Wood gave up a three-run homer to Carlos Gonzalez in Colorado on Sunday but was credited with the victory in the 16-8 slugfest. The game was memorable in two ways. Wood got his first major league at-bat, striking out, and faced former classmate Blackmon for the first time.
The edge went to Wood this time, getting Blackmon to fly out. But the ball barely was contained by Coors Field.
“I hit it 409 feet,” Blackmon said. “It was a good intra-squad at-bat.”