Lakeland, Fla. — Manager Ron Gardenhire couldn’t resist.
When he found out that left-hander Travis Wood had nearly split the index finger on his right hand in two in a crossbow malfunction, he quipped, “He’s got a split-finger pitch now.”
“That was bad,” he said, still chuckling.
Actually, it’s good that he and Wood can laugh about it. It could have been a much more dire situation, it nearly cost Wood part of his finger.
“I was sighting the crossbow for my son and when I tried to put the arrow in, it went off,” he said. “The string went through my finger. It broke in two places, almost went all the way through.”
Wood’s first thought — once the horrific pain subsided — was how long would this take to heal, or would it heal?
“I did ask what was the quickest recovery time — should they just take it and sacrifice the finger,” he said.
Wait. What do you mean, “take it?” You would have had the finger amputated?
“Yeah,” he said.
It didn’t have to come to that, mercifully. The accident happened four weeks ago. A pin was inserted and the entire length of the finger was stitched. Wood expects to get the splint off and stitches out by the end of the week and be good to go.
Amazingly, his throwing regimen has continued unabated. He has somebody catch the ball for him during his throwing sessions, like a quarterback warming up before a game.
“I am coming in here to hopefully help this ballclub win,” said Wood, who was signed to a minor-league contract with a camp invite. “I’m going to do everything I can. From what I’ve seen, it’s a good group of guys. I think we will surprise some people.”
Wood, 31, is coming off a horrendous 2017 season. After signing a two-year, $14.5 million deal with the Royals, he wound up being shipped off to San Diego in July. Between the two teams, he posted a 6.80 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP — this from a guy who in 2016 was a main cog in the Cubs World Series champion bullpen.
And, since the Royals are paying off most of his contract, he’s a high-reward, low-risk signee for the rebuilding Tigers.
“The only thing I take away from last year is that it was a healthy season and that I made it through,” Wood said. “It was one of my worst years and I just want to put it behind me and move forward.”
According to Brooks Baseball, Wood lost some 3 mph off his fastball between 2016 and 2017 — from 92 to 89 mph. Opponents hit .314 off his fastball last season, after just .211 in 2016. His cutter was impacted, too. Opponents hit .319 off it last year, .190 in 2016.
“I don’t think it’s anything to change right now,” he said. “We’ll see moving forward. Just right now I want to put last year behind me and don’t even think about it.”
Wood spent most of his career as a starter, making the National League All-Star team for the Cubs in 2013. But he’s done his best work, statistically, out of the bullpen. Most likely, his best chance of winning a spot in Detroit is out of the bullpen.
“Just whenever they tell me to throw, I will throw,” he said. “As long as I’m on the squad and helping the team win, that’s all I care about. I spent more time starting over my career. But I got moved to the bullpen in 2015 and 2016, and I spent part of last year in the bullpen.”
He had his most productive years in Chicago with Chris Bosio as his pitching coach. The two are reunited in Detroit.
“That’s really nice,” he said. “That’ll help, especially coming in and knowing somebody, it helps. He’s a good guy and a good coach. He knows what he’s doing.”
Asked if Bosio has already started making alterations, Wood said, “Not yet. Moving forward we may tweak some things. I know getting back with Bos and talking to him, he might have some suggestions. Right now, though, it’s just stay on pace and keep doing what I am doing. Chalk up last year to, just one of those years.”