Alex Wood returned from the COVID-19 Injured List on Saturday, and while he made the start against the Atlanta Braves, he was on a pitch count. More of a pitch range, really.
Manager Gabe Kapler hoped to have Wood start at least two innings, but the veteran lefty was able to make it through three hitless innings.
After Wood was removed from the game, six relievers piggybacked off his outing and held the Braves scoreless as Giants won 2-0 for their 97th victory of the season.
"Definitely exceed expectations," Kapler told reporters after the game. "Didn't think three innings was particularly likely going into this game. He was that crisp and that efficient. He landed all of his pitches for strikes, his slide was below the zone for swings. ... I really do think Woody was excellent, efficient, clean and now he's ready to go four-plus innings for us, and that's a great sign."
Prior to Wood's return, the Giants were down to three healthy starters -- Kevin Gausman, Logan Webb and Anthony DeSclafani -- meaning they had to use several bullpen games over the last few weeks. With Wood back in the fold and Johnny Cueto progressing in his rehab, San Francisco appears close to putting an end to the bullpen games for now.
"I think it's a great step in the right direction, and I can see him giving us a little more than he gave us today in his next outing," Kapler said. "Obviously right back in the rotation and I think one of the things we discussed pregame, and I'll reiterate is, it represents a light at the end of the tunnel without having to run several bullpen games a week. Now, that could always change and we can't see what's going to happen with our rotation going forward, but now we can say we have four healthy and effective starters again. And that's not something that all teams can say at this point. Glad to have Woody back."
Wood last pitched on Aug. 26 and missed three weeks while recovering from COVID-19. After the game, he provided details of his symptoms.
"I was pretty sick," Wood told reporters. "I had a fever on and off for seven straight days. I didn't really get out of bed for a whole lot or close to a week. Once I got to Day 8, I started to turn the corner a little bit, get some energy back. And then once I got to Day 12, Day 13, I started to plateau a little bit and feel like I was OK. I was able to gather enough energy to start getting some work in, get off the mound. It was a big week this week and it went as smooth as it could possibly have gone as far as my pen on Monday, live BP on Wednesday ad then obviously today went well too. So just got to build off that go from there."
After not pitching in a big-league game for three weeks, Wood struck out four, didn't allow a hit, and didn't walk anyone. The only batter to reach against him was when he hit Travis d'Arnaud with a pitch.
"I thought it went good. Thought my stuff was good," Wood said. "I felt pretty good throughout. I think I went long that we were planning to go. I thought an inning or two was the goal. I didn't really know what to expect there. Thought my stuff was sharp. Three hitless innings. Can't ask for much more in a return after not pitching for three weeks. So it was good and then the boys finished it off. So a good team win tonight."
Kapler said Wood wanted to go back out for the fourth inning, but three innings was enough for the coaching staff.
"With Alex, what was really important was getting him through one-plus inning, make sure he gets that second up, that second inning," Kapler said. "The third inning was really like a frosting and a bonus for us. It shortened the game for us and it gave us a chance to send him back out for a fourth, maybe even a fifth up the next time out because he's starting to build that foundation and that volume. He felt good and wanted to go back out. I don't think he was particularly happy that we didn't send him back out, but I definitely feel like it was the right play for the Giants, for Alex Wood going forward, and I imagine down the road, Alex will feel that way too."
Assuming the Giants stay on rotation for the next few games, Wood will start Friday against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver and then likely make his final regular-season start Thursday, Sept. 30 at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Giants and Wood will use those two starts to build him up before the playoffs start, when they likely will need him to go five or six innings, assuming they play in the National League Division Series and beyond.
The Giants lost a key member of their bullpen Friday when they put Jake McGee on the Injured List with an oblique strain, but they got an equally important part of their rotation back Saturday, and that should help alleviate some of the pressure on the relief corps over the final few weeks of the season.