DENVER -- The Braves believe that 23-year-old left-hander Alex Wood is capable of being an integral part of the rotation during the final months of the season. Unfortunately for Wood, in order to prepare for this role, he will spend the next couple of weeks making starts for Triple-A Gwinnett.
Wood has been preparing for the assignment while being used in a relief role over the past five weeks, but the anticipation did not make him immune to the uneasiness he felt on Tuesday afternoon, when the Braves optioned him to Gwinnett to make room for Jordan Walden to come off the disabled list.
"It's one of those things, even if you know it's happening, when it happens it still puts you in kind of a weird place," Wood said. "I think everybody's goal is, once you get here, stay here, and never go back down for any reason."
Whereas Walden has made a much-welcomed return to the bullpen, Wood will spend the next couple of weeks looking to regain the form that he had when he allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of the seven starts he made before being moved to a relief role after his May 4 outing against the Giants.
Wood will likely be back in the big leagues by the time the Braves play a doubleheader against the Phillies on June 28, but he could return sooner if one of the current members of the rotation sustains an injury or is traded.
"There comes a point in time when you've got to do what's best for the individual, the organization and your team," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We need him to go down and stretch out. There's no timetable. But he's a big piece of our organization and our future."
By moving Wood to the bullpen, the Braves were able to harness his workload, as he was on pace to complete more than 200 innings when he made that May 4 start. The Braves want to limit him to between 170 and 180 innings in his second full professional season, but they don't want to enter next season with similar limitations. Thus they will stretch him out now, with the expectation that he will serve as a starter for the remainder of this season.
Wood will be targeted for three innings or 60 pitches when he makes his first start for Gwinnett, on Friday. In addition to rebuilding his endurance, he will have a chance to regain a feel for his secondary pitches, which he has not been able to throw as frequently as a reliever.
"When I was in the 'pen, they were looking for opportunities for me to throw multiple innings, but at the same time, they can use me lefty-lefty or other times late in the ballgames," Wood said. "That in itself is a tough thing for anybody to do, because you don't know what is going on. From that standpoint it will be nice to lay some roots back down and get back to starting."
Walden returns to Braves' bullpen
ATLANTA -- In the first of his two rehab appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett, right-handed reliever Jordan Walden struck out the first three batters he faced. But a wild pitch uncorked at the end of one of those three strikeouts extended the inning and allowed former Braves infielder Elliot Johnson to hit a two-run homer.
After the Braves activated him from the disabled list on Tuesday, Walden was able to laugh about that rare inning. More important, he could smile about the fact that he is no longer bothered by the strained left hamstring that had sidelined him the past five weeks.
"The games I threw at Gwinnett, I didn't feel it at all," Walden said. "I'm just glad to be back."
Walden showed some rust when he entered to begin the eighth inning of Tuesday night's 13-10 win over the Rockies. He walked each of the first three batters he faced and then handed the ball to Shae Simmons, who allowed just one of the three inherited runners to score.
Walden allowed just the one hit and struck out five of the eight batters he faced during his two appearances for Gwinnett. The Braves were satisfied with what they saw and are hopeful that he can resume his role as a reliable setup man for Craig Kimbrel.
In the 14 appearances he made before going on the disabled list, Walden limited opponents to a .178 batting average and .278 on-base percentage. He said that his hamstring bothered him for most of April but really affected him after he allowed Brandon Crawford's two-run homer during a May 4 appearance against the Giants.
Simmons shows ability to stay calm and collected
DENVER -- After right-handed reliever Shae Simmons told reporters he'd consumed a lot of coffee as he felt himself dozing while sitting in the bullpen during his first Major League game, backup catcher Gerald Laird made his young teammate chart every pitch thrown during the next game.
Simmons, 23, actually ended up throwing the final inning of that next game, in Miami, and earned his first save. When Laird presented Simmons with a game ball and the lineup card, he told him he still wanted him to go back and chart the inning he threw.
Just as he did not blink when the team's veterans forced him to ride a pink bike for a few days during Spring Training, Simmons took Laird's ribbing in a good-natured manner. As he has shown while not allowing a run in the seven appearances he has made dating back to his May 31 debut, he does not seem fazed by too many things.
In that debut, Simmons threw his first pitch with two on and two outs in the eighth inning and the Braves holding a one-run lead. He notched the save the following day while Craig Kimbrel rested, and then completed a perfect eighth inning on Monday with a strikeout of Troy Tulowitzki, who has hit .480 at Coors Field this season.
"He's only been with us for a week or two weeks," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You don't know what kind of kid he is, but it doesn't seem like he gets in these situations and gets rattled."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.