ATLANTA -- Alex Wood is still only a few months removed from a dominant start to his Minor League season that left the Braves wondering how he could possibly improve upon a 1.26 ERA in nearly two months with Double-A Mississippi.
By Wood's own admission, the team's recent decision to skip his spot in the rotation Thursday -- ostensibly to keep him fresh for the playoff push -- is just the latest vote of confidence in what has been "a crazy year" for the rookie left-hander, who has gone from second-round selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft to one of the Braves' multiple viable options for their playoff rotation. Wood's next start is slated for Wednesday against the Nationals in Washington.
"It's exciting to me because it's nice that they're looking out for me enough to where they feel like they want to give me a break so I can hopefully be as fresh as I can for the playoffs, which is what I hope they have in mind," Wood said. "It's nice, it makes me want to go out there and do even better than I already wanted to do before."
After leading all starters in baseball with a 0.90 ERA in August, his first full month as a member of the Major League rotation, Wood stumbled in his first two September starts, allowing a total of 11 earned runs in seven innings. Even if he will not quite duplicate his near-perfect August numbers, Wood can credit his progression down the stretch in part to the work he has done in the film room under the direction of left-hander Mike Minor, who is enjoying a breakout year in his own right.
"He's kind of like a sponge, he'll be around guys all the time and ask us questions and ask us how to attack hitters," Minor said.
Minor has helped show Wood the ropes of pitching in the big leagues, including studying video of hitters to get an edge the scouting reports may not always provide. Wood said that pitching coach Roger McDowell steered him toward Minor early on to learn the preparation required to handle the ups and downs of being a member of the rotation.
"[Minor] and I are pretty similar in how we go about pitching guys and going through lineups, so it's nice to kind of have a second pair of eyes and another mind that kind of thinks the same ways you do, in terms of going about your business and how you go through these lineups," Wood said. "He's been a huge help to me for sure, without a doubt."
"The last couple games, he's had some struggles, but I think that's what's going to happen," Minor said. "You always think you've got it until you have that bad game, and then it kind of humbles you, and you have to get back to work."
Heading into the final weeks, the Braves have indicated how much they value both lefties, giving Minor a few extra days of rest in late August and sending out Freddy Garcia in place of Wood for Thursday's series finale in Miami, a 6-1 Braves win.
"It's getting down to the home stretch here before the playoffs, and I'm just feeling real fortunate to be a part of a team like this, especially in my first year playing in the league," Wood said. "It's been pretty special, and hopefully it'll only get better."
Heyward building up strength with second day of BP
ATLANTA -- Jason Heyward completed his second consecutive day of full participation in pregame warmups alongside his Braves teammates without incident Saturday. In the process, he confirmed the club's expectation that the more time the outfielder spends on the field going through typical baseball activities, the quicker he will return to game strength.
Unlike Friday's initial batting practice, Heyward sent a few balls over the fence Saturday afternoon during his second public session in the cage since suffering a fractured jaw Aug. 21. He seemed confident that those results would build on themselves as his recovery continues.
"Each day on the field, it's going to begin to come back more and more and more," Heyward said. "I've been swinging in the cage just to be ready for these past two days, and now the outdoor process begins, just getting ready to do things physically outside on the baseball field."
Heyward has not encountered any issues with the sizeable protective addition to his helmet, which covers his right jaw, from his earhole to the corner of his mouth. He also popped out a protective mouthguard to speak with reporters about his progress after completing batting practice.
"I haven't really had to think about it at all," Heyward said. "I just feel safe, and that's the main thing. I've got a mouthpiece to wear as well -- no big deal, I've worn a mouthpiece before. My main focus is just getting ready to play baseball and get in shape."
While manager Fredi Gonzalez was encouraged after watching Heyward's cage work and checking up on him throughout Friday night's game, he was not ready to set anything in stone about the team's plans to send Heyward to the Instructional League next week to see some live at-bats before he is activated.
"He could probably do more [down there] because I'm sure we could find some young pitchers down there that we trust throwing strikes, and he could see some live pitches," Gonzalez said. "We've discussed it, but we don't know what the timetable is. But there's plenty of things he could do down there."
• With his two-run home run in Friday's fourth inning, catcher Brian McCann secured his sixth consecutive season with at least 20 homers. The veteran backstop has put on a remarkable display of consistent power since arriving in the Major Leagues, hitting between 18 and 24 homers in each of his first eight full seasons.
"Good for him," Gonzalez said Saturday. "I was hoping he would get it, because it's a special thing."
• Right-hander Brandon Beachy will resume playing catch early next week after shutting things down when he continued to feel discomfort in his right elbow last week. Gonzalez said that Beachy will begin playing catch either Monday or Tuesday.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.