Gwinnett Braves pitcher Alex Wood delivers a pitch during Thursday’s game. (Special Photo: William Lofton)
LAWRENCEVILLE — With an early offensive explosion, Alex Wood didn’t have much time to sweat through his first Class AAA start.
The G-Braves scored nine of their 10 runs in the first two innings on their way to a 10-3 win over the Indianapolis Indians to start the post All-Star break in winning fashion.
The lefty pitcher, who skipped Gwinnett on his way to the majors this season, turned out a strong debut for the G-Braves in his first start since June 18 with the Atlanta Braves against the New York Mets.
Wood delivered his longest performance since he last pitched with Class AA Mississippi in May, throwing five complete innings, allowing one run off of three hits. He walked two, struck out five and hit a batter. His 71 pitches were the most he’s thrown since starting in Mississippi.
“It was nice, nice for sure. I definitely prefer starting over relieving,” the former Georgia pitcher Wood said. “When you start it’s more of the mental side. It’s more of a chess game. I am pretty good at that aspect of the game.”
Wood got an inning-ending double play in the first inning, to thwart an Indians scoring threat after allowing a leadoff hit and hitting a batter.
“The game could have been completely different with that first inning,” Wood said. “I was fortunate enough to get out of that.”
Gwinnett’s offense used the scouting report to its advantage in the first inning, loading the bases on three straight walks by Indians starter Andy Oliver. Oliver’s 86 walks led all of minor league baseball at the all-star break. With the bases loaded and one out, Joe Leonard singled in Phil Gosselin and Luis Nunez scored two more when his ground ball skipped through the legs of Indianapolis shortstop Brian Bocock to make it 3-0.
And in the second, things got better for the G-Braves offense.
With two outs and a runner on second Brandon Boggs doubled to score a run and reopen the scoring. The next five batters reached base, including a two-RBI double by Leonard and a three-run homer by catcher Matt Pagnozzi as part of a 10-batter, six-run second inning. Oliver’s night ended when he walked Sean Kazmar, his fifth walk of the night. Reliever Zack Thornton retired the pitcher Wood to end the inning. Thornton was one of six pitchers to take the mound for Indianapolis on the night, including former Gwinnett pitcher Erik Cordier.
The pounding handed Oliver was the worst of the season for the league leader in strikeouts and batting average against entering the game. He lasted just 1 2/3 innings allowing nine runs (eight earned) off of five hits, five walks and two strikeouts. Quite a difference from his one-run, six-inning, seven-strikeout performance when he faced the G-Braves in Indianapolis on April 29. In Gwinnett’s four games at Indianapolis, a sweep which began the season-high 15-game skid, the offense scored a total of seven runs.
The big lead freed Wood to pitch comfortably.
“I have an idea of what I want to do, start to finish,” he said. “I adjust from there.”
The offensive output, aided by three Indians errors and six walks, required just seven G-Braves hits and only Leonard had more than one hit.
Down 9-0 Indianapolis managed one run off of Wood and a pair off of reliever Cody Martin including a home run by Matt Hague on the first pitch Martin threw. Martin shook off the two runs, to pitch the final four innings for his first save since 2011 with the Rome Braves. He retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced.