By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — There was an Alex Wood sighting early Tuesday afternoon in Great American Ball Park. He was on the mound, wearing his game uniform, Cincinnati Reds jersey No. 40.
Wood hasn’t thrown a pitch in anger yet this season due to back misery. So when he threw a brief batting practice session, 21 pitches, he wore his game uniform.
Most pitchers who throw early batting practice wear shorts and t-shirts, but Wood wanted the true feeling of game conditions.
“I always throw bullpens in a game uniform and that was the first jersey I saw in my locker when I was getting ready to go out there,” he said. “I grabbed that because that’s what I’ll be wearing in a game and and I want to keep it as close to game-like as possible.”
It was Wood’s first real test, first time facing hitters, and the smile on his face after the session was worth a thousand words.
Asked if adrenaline kicked in, he smiled even wider and said, “Yeah, a little bit, man. It felt good to be on the bump. It felt really good. It has been a long time coming and I felt really good.
“I’m getting the itch to get back out there and start throwing every fifth day,” he added. “I was really excited and encouraged about how it went today.”
The plan is for Wood to throw batting practice again Saturday (in Milwaukee) and if that goes well he could begin a minor league rehab assignment next week.
“The next step remains to be seen,” he said. “As long as I recover tomorrow, which I’m confident I’ll feel good coming to the park, I think we’ll have some more talks to see what the plan is going forward.
“I want to get out on my rehab assignment as soon as I can, but we still have to be smart about it and we’ll know more tomorrow,” he said.
Back spasms hit Wood early in spring training and he has had at least two setbacks in his recovery process, so caution is the operative word.
Wood was expected to be the left handed presence in the Reds rotation this season after he was acquired in the off-season from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It has been a long and winding and frustrating path back to what he calls the bump (the pitcher’s mound).
“It has been pretty frustrating, man,” he said. “You come to a new place and you’ve played against some of these guys over the years. But when you are a new face in the clubhouse you want to come in and have an impact. You want to be friends with the guys.
“They know what you can do but there is something about getting started with that team to show and to prove you’re here to win games,” he added. “Not being able to do that right out of the gate definitely has taken a mental toll. Those days are behind me and I’m looking forward now to get out there and contribute.”
Manager David Bell was upbeat about Wood’s 21-pitch effort, a session in which he used his entire repertoire of pitches, although he admitted his command was not top-shelf.
“Everything went as expected,” said Bell. “Everything was fine. A great step and now we look forward to another one Saturday. If all goes well, we’ll take the next big step.
“You can see he is anxious,” said Bell. “He’s excited. You can see he is getting close because his competitive juices are there. That’s a great sign to help him get over the hump.”
SCOOTER GENNETT made his rehab debut Monday night in Clearwater, Fla., playing for the Class A Daytona Tortugas. He went 0 for 2 with a walk.
He was scheduled to play again Tuesday but was scratched. It had nothing to do with a setback, it was precautionary due to wet playing conditions.
“Everything was good last night with Scooter, but we made an early call for tonight,” said Bell. “He got scratched because there is a lot of bad weather, a lot rain. It has nothing to do with how he came out of the game. Everything was great.”
Bell said he didn’t know if Tuesday’s game was rained out but said, “It was just not worth taking a chance.”
WITH NINE-GAME WINNER Justin Verlander on the mound for Houston Tuesday night, Reds manager David Bell juggled his lineup a bit.
He inserted Jesse Winker into the leadoff spot and dropped Nick Senzel from leadoff to fifth in the order. The desire was that Senzel would come to bat more often with runners on base.
“Nick has mostly led off since he has been here, but this gives us a little more of a different look,” said Bell. “With Nick in the middle of the lineup, with the at bats he has been having, I have no concern putting him in that spot, a spot that comes up a lot in important situations.”
Winker began the season batting leadoff quite often, but Senzel has usurped it.
“Jesse is swinging the bat better (four hits and five RBI Sunday), definitely feeling better,” said Bell. “And this gives us another left handed hitter at the top of the order (against Verlander). Jesse’s ability to get on base against a tough pitcher was the thought process.”
ONE THING IS STRONGLY apparent as the season progresses. Other teams fear right fielder Yasiel Puig’s arm. Their motto is, “Fear the Arm.”
It was glaringly apparent Monday night. Houston trailed the Reds, 3-1, in the fifth inning. They had runners on second and first with one out. Michael Brantley pulled a double into the right field corner. The runner on second scored easily. The runner on first, Alex Bregman, was rounding third when Puig picked up the ball.
It appeared he could score easily, tying the game, 3-3. But he feared the arm and stopped. The score stayed 3-2 and it finished 3-2.
“That definitely saved the game,” said Bell. “I don’t know if there is anyone better with his reputation. It’s real,” said Bell. “He has earned that reputation. To shut down the runners like he has. . .that one was obvious to everyone last night. His reputation kept them from scoring.
“There have been a lot of times this year where singles could have been doubles but with him out there they won’t even try it,” said Bell. “It comes into play more than we realize.”
On Friday, Texas pitcher Jesse Chavez singled to shallow right field and jogged toward first. Puig could have thrown him out at first base, but bobbled the ball.
“Puig definitely would have thrown him out,” said Bell. “He got too excited and he probably would have thrown him out by 20 feet.”