Don't knock Wood, he's coming around
Infielder hits clutch homer in Saturday's loss to White Sox
CHICAGO -- Brandon Wood had been hitting bad luck on the current road trip before he stepped in against White Sox closer Bobby Jenks on Saturday night and found a place where nobody could rob him: the left-field bleachers at U.S. Cellular Field.
It was against Jenks, the one-time Angels farm hand with the blazing heat, that Wood produced his first Major League hit last season, drilling a heater for a single.
This time, Jenks started Wood with another fastball, and he fouled it back. After missing with a slider, Jenks came back with another slider that Wood launched an estimated 397 feet to give the Angels a 6-5 lead.
"As far as contributing in the ninth inning and putting us up by one," Wood said, "it was a good feeling."
It didn't last long. For only the sixth time in 60 opportunities, Francisco Rodriguez blew a save. It was Jim Thome, unloading a walk-off homer in the 15th inning against Justin Speier, who headlined the late-night highlight shows, not the rookie from Anaheim, Wood.
"Woody's been swinging the bat much better this go-round," manager Mike Scioscia said of the left-side infielder who has been the organization's No. 1 position prospect for several years. "A lot of pitches he's just missed. He's definitely more comfortable in the box."
If there's a knock on Wood, it's that he hasn't shown enough patience at the plate in his brief Angels auditions shuttling between Triple-A Salt Lake and Anaheim the past two seasons.
While his .165 average in 97 at-bats this season is nothing to write home to Scottsdale, Ariz., about, Wood, at 23, clearly has made significant strides this season. He finally has learned to stay away from the sliders and curve balls out of the zone that leave him in bad counts, vulnerable to high heaters with two strikes.
An adjustment in his setup, lowering his hands to give him a quicker stroke, also has helped.
Playing regularly at shortstop with Erick Aybar recovering from a strained left hamstring, Wood has been solid defensively. In Detroit, robbed of extra bases in right-center by Magglio Ordonez, he felt he'd found the form he used to tear apart Pacific Coast League pitching during the second half.
"That was the first day I really felt like I did [at Salt Lake] -- staying away from the off-speed stuff, slowing it down," Wood said. "Laying off their pitch, not helping them out, that's something I've had to work on. Guys on the club have really helped me with that."
Mike Napoli's plate discipline and words of advice have been especially helpful to Wood, along with the sage wisdom of veterans such as Torii Hunter and Garret Anderson.
"Nap told me that they did the same thing with him, throwing the off-speed stuff away and showing the fastball in," Wood said. "They approach him the way they do me, so I can learn a lot from watching him.
"Guys up here, like Torii, they have a plan. They've got it figured out. In Triple-A, they might not have a plan yet. Guys here don't veer away from that plan. That's something I'm learning. It's a process."
The plan worked against Jenks when Wood hammered his second homer of the season and third of his career.
If the Angels are correct in their evaluation of this first-round pick from the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, it's just the start of something big.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.