It was clear something was off from the very start. On a nice, mid-60s June day, Alex Wood was continually blowing on his left hand, often trading balls with the home-plate umpire because he was unhappy with the one he had. He was looking for command and a grip that worked, and those might be hard to come by officially beginning Monday.
In his last start before the crackdown on so-called sticky stuff begins Monday, Wood “didn’t have it” and looked “like s–t,” he said after the Giants fell, 13-6, at Oracle Park on Saturday, when he walked two in three innings, threw two wild pitches, hit a batter and, of his 75 pitches, just 44 were strikes.
He didn’t have “it,” which meant command and control of the ball. The “majority” of pitchers, as he said, have used something to ensure they can gain a grip, and there are some who have gone too far, discovered Spider Tack or a variant, and seen their revolutions per minute skyrocket and thus their breaking stuff becomes nearly unhittable. Wood said he is not among that group and differentiated between those who use it for basic grip and those who abuse it.
“I’m not somebody that has ever used anything, really, for grip to try and enhance my vertical movement and my pitch profiles,” said Wood, who has had two poor outings and one good one since word emerged that the league was cracking down. “…The only thing I would compare it to — it’s like playing golf and then somebody telling you you can’t use a grip on your golf club anymore.
“So there’s obviously going to be adjustments that need to be made. But was that impactful today? No, I don’t think so. I just didn’t really have a whole lot to offer today.”
Wood said he is not a pitcher whose rates have changed much during his career. Courtesy Baseball Savant, here is a look at his averages, which suggested peaks in 2020, when he was with the Dodgers (albeit in a very short season). His spin rates have been down this season, during which he has a 4.09 ERA after allowing six runs (four earned) in three innings to Philadelphia.
The most common complaint from pitchers about the clampdown on sticky stuff, which will begin this week with each pitcher getting checked, is that it is occurring midseason; Tampa’s Tyler Glasnow attributed his partially torn UCL to going cold turkey, saying he previously had mixed sunscreen and rosin, and only rosin now will be allowed.
“It’s just tough that we’re put in a position like this,” said Wood, whose spin rates have gone down since the June 3 owners meeting that suggested this crackdown was coming, though most pitchers’ spin rates also have dipped since. “…This has been something that’s been on the radar of MLB for several years now that they’ve talked about it. And then to just implement something in the middle of the season, it’s an adjustment for sure for a lot of guys.
“But that’s our reality, and so we have to deal with it and make the adjustments moving forward.”
The adjustments were not made for Wood on Saturday. Neither was the defense, with a Donovan Solano two-out error preceding a Rhys Hoskins blast. Neither occasionally were the calls, as what appeared to be a strike was a ball, giving Hoskins a 2-0 count, and the next pitch was blasted 435 feet.
“When you have a day like today, when you’re not offering a whole lot, you’re just trying to grind it out and compete. Pitches like that [ball] you want, you know what I mean?” said the 30-year-old lefty, who did say the strike zone was pretty fair.
He didn’t have much, but he did have a fire to go out and save their bullpen and try to right himself after 75 pitches. But Gabe Kapler said no, and TV cameras showed an animated discussion in the dugout.
“I shared this with Woody: I didn’t think he was the best option to get the next three hitters out,” said Kapler, who turned to Dominic Leone in what was then a 6-6 game, and Leone pitched a scoreless inning. “…It doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in Alex Wood.”
Conner Menez had allowed zero runs in his first 11 innings this season and now has let up 10 in three innings.
“There’s not much different right now,” Kapler said of the lefty, who was charged with five runs in a pair of innings. “I think obviously a little bit more solid contact on some of the balls that he’s leaving up in the zone, but there’s nothing dramatically different to point to.”
The strange, few-minute-long pause in the eighth inning, when Philadelphia’s Archie Bradley would not take the mound before the grounds crew had a rake to work on it, arose from “a hole that was created by pitchers landing, and he wanted to see that filled in,” Kapler said.