By Rob Patrick
Travis Wood and his bride of almost 14 months, Brittany, will be leaving the snowy Bryant area headed for sunshiny Arizona this week. Wood will be embarking on his first Major League spring training as a member of the 40-man roster for the Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds will be inaugurating a new spring training facility in Goodyear, Ariz., after being in Sarasota, Fla., for years.
“I don’t really get nervous,” he said late last week on a trip back to Bryant after a day of fishing with his dad, Jay, at Lake Maumelle. “It’s just another year. I’m going to go do what I can.”[more]
According to the Reds.com website, the lefty has been assigned the number 71 (instead of his usual 12). Not the kind of number usually given to someone that’s expected to win a job with the Major League club. Though most Reds watchers expect him to return to Class AAA Louisville (where he finished up 2009), some put him in the running for the No. 5 spot in the Cincy rotation.
“I think I have an outside chance of getting in there,” Wood said. “I don’t want to say I do, but I’m going in there with the mindset, thinking that I can. I’ll just put it all out there on the line and it’s up to them after that. I’m just going out and thinking the sky’s the limit. I’ll give it my all and put the choice in their hands. But don’t leave any doubt. Just go out there and do the best I can.
“When I get down there, I’ll just get in a routine and we’ll go from there,” he added.
A former Bryant High School and Bryant American Legion standout, Wood was drafted in the June 2005 first-year player draft and has worked his way through the Reds’ system, making big strides during the summer of 2009.
He was coming back from an off-season in 2008 that was marred by arm trouble.
“Coming off a rough year before, I just had to go into the off-season and re-focus,” he recalled, “just knowing that I didn’t need to have another season like I did before.”
The lefty pitcher took Class AA by storm in 2009. Working for the Carolina Mudcats, he was named the AA Starting Pitcher of the Year by mlb.com, the Southern League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher, selected for the Topps AA All-Star team, started the Southern League All-Star game and posted league-leading statistics in ERA (1.21), strikeouts (103) and innings pitched (119) and opponent’s batting average (.189). He also set a new Mudcats record for consecutive wins with nine.
He was promoted to Louisville where he went 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA, earning a shot to pitch in the Bats’ post-season opener.
“I couldn’t hope for anything more,” Wood said of his 2009 campaign. “It was just confidence, going out and pitching and believing in your stuff.
“It was nice,” he said of his journey, “being in AA for a little bit, pitching well and getting the call to go up to AAA. It’s a new ballgame up there, older guys, more experience. They’re more patient at the plate so you just have to make your adjustments, be confidant and go out there and know you can pitch.
“Everything was good,” he said of Louisville. “It was real nice up there, a great baseball atmosphere, great group of guys to play with, good coaches. And then, you know, you’re one step closer."
And the key to his success?
“Being more convicted and throwing more fastballs and just basically saying, I’ve got eight guys behind me so go ahead and let them hit it,” he related. “Let them make the plays and get the outs. Strikeouts are good but if you get a guy to hit your first or second pitch — a ground ball to short cuts down on pitches so you can go longer in the game and get everybody involved.”
Wood admitted he was surprised to be chosen to start the first playoff game.
“A little bit,” he allowed. “They told me a few days before that I was going to start the playoffs. It was a shame we couldn’t do better but we gave it our best shot and that’s how it played out.”
The Bats lost out in the first round of the International League playoffs.
Typical of many pitchers, Wood was most enthusiastic when talking about his hitting, something he didn’t get to do in previous summers because of the use of the designated hitter.
“Starting in AA, the National League Minor League teams’ (pitchers) hit,” he noted. “I love hitting. I actually hit pretty well last year, just getting up there and helping yourself out when you get in the box. If it calls for a bunt, getting a guy over. Or you get a hit and knock a guy in and get on base, just helping your team and helping yourself out.”
Wood’s competition for a spot on the Reds roster out of spring training got a little tougher during the off-season when Cincinnati signed Cuban star Aroldis Chapman, another left-hander, to a 6-year contract. But Wood took a team approach when talking about that, saying, “From what I’ve heard, he’s a good guy, throws hard and, hopefully, he can get in there and help us out.”
Along with veteran starters Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, the Reds return Edison Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey to the rotation.
Regarding the chances that he might be back in Louisville to start the season, Wood said, “No, it wouldn’t be disappointing but — well, kind of disappointing because your expectations are just a little higher.”
With another season anywhere near like the one he had last summer, however, it'll be a surprise not to see Wood make his Major League debut during the 2010 season.