Inside the Clubhouse: Alex Wood, Matt Strahm and other unexpected pitching stars

Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images
Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images /

Incredible pitching performances have been coming from unexpected places to start this MLB season, including Alex Wood, Matt Strahm and the Mets rotation.

After a spring game against the San Francisco Giants, Kolten Wong walked inside the Brewers’ clubhouse and yelled: “I have never seen Alex Wood look that good!”

“Everything was sharp,” Wong said. “There were a lot of pitches that I’ve seen before that I’ve had some success on. Now, it’s just different. Hats off to him because I’ve faced him quite a few times in my career and I have never seen him look that good.”

This spring, San Francisco Giants officials noticed an uptick in Wood’s velocity, and that has continued in his first two starts during the regular season. His sinker is averaging 92.5 mph, up from 91.8 last season. His changeup is averaging 86.5 mph, up from 85.3 last season. And his slider is averaging 84.7 mph, up from 83.9 last season.

The Giants’ rotation – Carlos Rodon, Logan Webb, Wood, Anthony DeSclafini and Alex Cobb – have a combined 2.86 ERA that ranks fifth in baseball. Wood, 31, has a 1.93 ERA. Rodon, the Giants’ prized free-agent signing, is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher after eliminating his changeup and has a 1.06 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 17 innings. While Cobb started the season with a dominant five-inning start in which he threw a 96 mph fastball, the hardest pitch he has thrown in his 11-year major-league career, he was placed on the injured list on Tuesday with a groin injury.

One more note on the Giants…

In early April, I texted an executive who watched the Giants closely this spring and asked “Am I wrong for thinking Joey Bart is a breakout candidate?”

“He absolutely is,” the executive said. “He was called up straight from Double-A in September 2020 and struggled. I feel like people have been unfairly down on him for that month-long trial with no fans in the stands. He has slugging/power and Gold Glove-caliber defensive potential.”

In nine games, Bart has a .772 OPS and is getting strong reviews from teammates for his work with the pitching staff in his first full season behind the plate as Buster Posey’s replacement.

Matt Strahm is making the most of his opportunity

Matt Strahm threw only 6.2 innings and battled right knee issues throughout the 2021 season. But after strengthening his knee this offseason, he was fully healthy following the lockout and threw in front of approximately 15 scouts at the Fuel Factory in Phoenix, AZ.

Two people in attendance used the same word to describe Strahm in the showcase: “Electric.”

Immediately after the workout, Strahm garnered strong interest. His fastball touched 96-97 mph and his secondary pitches were sharp. One scout said that the left-hander looked like he did pre-injury, where he was once a top pitching prospect for the Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres.

Strahm eventually signed a one-year, $3 million contract, which is $1 million more than he was set to earn with the Padres before he was non-tendered. The contract surprised rival executives, but chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and other Red Sox executives were confident that what they saw in the showcase would translate to the regular season.

So far, it looks like a worthwhile gamble. Strahm, 30, has a 1.50 ERA in his first six appearances and has quickly established himself as a dependable arm in a strong Red Sox bullpen. And if he continues this pace could enter the offseason as one of the top left-handed relievers in free agency.

How the Astros invested in Ryan Pressly

During the 2021 All-Star break, Astros general manager James Click called agent Scott Lonergan to express interest in extending reliever Ryan Pressly. The only issue, Click said, was that there were other players — Carlos Correa — that needed to be taken care of first.

“I wished them good luck and told them that we were in no hurry,” Lonergan said, “but that we would be open to having another conversation.”

In 2022, days before the lockout, Click once again expressed interest in extending Pressly. After the lockout, Click checked back in with Lonergan, who told the Astros GM: “We are six months away from free agency, he’s never gotten to experience free agency, and that’s something he’s certainly interested in doing. But if you present something strong, I think Ryan would have a hard time not doing a serious deep dive into that.”

In the following days, Click offered Pressly a two-year extension., Lonergan told Click that if “Ryan was a free agent, he could get a guaranteed third year” and expressed that was something important to the right-hander.

Days later, the Astros and Pressly agreed to a two-year, $30 million extension that included a 2025 vesting option that could make it worth $42 million.

“We worked it into a place that didn’t make sense for Ryan to go another six months of staying healthy, but performing at an elite level,” Lonergan said. “We believe that he can keep pitching at that level. But with how much Ryan wanted to be in Houston, and since he grew up near Houston, they presented us with what we believed to be close to free agency dollars. He accepted the opportunity that they presented.”

The banana Mets rotation … and Max Scherzer

The Mets signed Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million contract this offseason … and so far, he has the second-highest ERA among their five starting pitchers.

No, that does not mean Scherzer has been struggling. It means that the Mets’ rotation has been really freakin’ good.

Scherzer, 37, has a 2.50 ERA and looks every bit of his future Hall of Fame self. David Peterson has a 0.00 ERA. Carlos Carrasco has a 0.84 ERA. Tylor Megill, who has earned a rotation spot even after deGrom returns, has a 2.20 ERA. Chris Bassitt has a 3.00 ERA.

Starting pitching was an enormous priority this winter for the Mets. In signing Scherzer and trading for Bassitt, they have formed one of the best rotations in baseball, and that’s not even including Jacob deGrom, who could conceivably begin throwing soon if all goes well during a follow-up MRI on Monday as he recovers from a stress reaction in his right scapula.

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