GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's hardly uncommon for a pitcher to shed a good deal of weight and enter Spring Training stronger. Or to be coming back from a major surgery. Or to make tweaks in his delivery.
But all of the above? If you're Blake Wood, yes.
To say the Indians right-hander has had a lot on his plate over the last two years would be a gross understatement. Three of the most important components to a pitcher's game -- his overall health, his arm and his delivery -- have undergone transformation. So where does that leave the other, and perhaps most important, factor -- his head?
"It's actually a lot easier," Wood said. "Three years ago, competing for spots, I would worry about what other guys were doing. Everything that happened to me on the mound, I would be like, 'I'm going to get sent down.' Every doomsday scenario you could think of would cross my mind. But I don't take it for granted as much as I used to. You know that this game can be over tomorrow and I was lucky enough to rehab from it all and come back from it, and I feel like I'm a much better pitcher and person, and I'm completely confident.
"Everything about me is completely different. In a good way."
Wood is hardly exaggerating. The transformation began when his 2012 season never really started, as he was shut down in the spring because of nerve irritation and soreness in his right elbow after four Cactus League appearances with the Royals. The injury didn't respond well to treatment and Wood had Tommy John surgery in late May of that year.
He was claimed off waivers by the Indians on Nov. 2 and spent the rest of the year and the first half of 2013 rehabbing. His first rehab start was May 4 in Akron, when he endured the first and most significant trial of his long road to recovery -- soreness in his elbow, which forced him to shut it down for 10 days.
"You put in all this hard work and I got in a game at 11 months and couldn't throw for 10 days after that," Wood said. "It was pretty disheartening at the time, and then I don't even know if I messed up my arm again, I don't know if everything's going to be OK, I don't know if I'm ever going to get back. All those doubts kind of creep in but you just stay the course and every day just try to have a good day."
He returned May 15 at Lake County but persistent soreness kept Wood out yet another month and he wasn't ready to pitch full-go until mid-June. He was activated from the 60-day disabled list finally on July 14 and made two appearances with the Tribe last year -- three walks, one hit and one strikeout in 1 1/3 scoreless innings -- and enters camp this year healthy and fighting for a spot.
The 28-year-old has proven his worth in the Kansas City bullpen, logging 50-plus appearances in 2010 and 2011, but the "new" Blake Wood has yet to make a splash with the Indians. He says he's lost 35 pounds, can field his position better and is stronger than he's ever been. He's also worked extensively with pitching coach Mickey Callaway and the Indians staff to refine his motion and, particularly, speed his delivery to the plate.
"When he was coming back from Tommy John last year, the last thing we wanted to do was, 'OK, he's getting to the Major League level, he's working to get up to the Major League level, let's start tinkering with his delivery.' That didn't make sense," manager Terry Francona said. "So we told him, 'At some point, we need to talk about this, but not now. Let's get your feet on the ground.' And he did that and now when he came to camp, he has worked with different times to the plate.
"He's actually been quick as 1.25 [seconds], which for a quick, big-levered guy is hard. He's been 1.45, he's actually been up to 1.7, 1.75. They're trying to get to a place where he can get comfortable and he can repeat all his pitches. And the more he can repeat, that's that side that not a lot of guys can do. You've got to be consistent with it and everything like that, but there's a lot to like."
Wood says he's always been conscious of his slower delivery to the plate, but the time to tinker with it never presented itself. Once he regained his health, he was able to refine his high leg kick -- "I had catchers running on me," he says -- and find the motion the Indians envisioned for some time.
Now that he has it all out of the way, he can focus on trying to earn a spot in the Indians' bullpen. He's excelled in seven Spring Training games, allowing just one earned run and four hits over seven innings while striking out eight and walking three.
"Everyone in this game, you're trying always to find ways to get better," Wood said. "Having the surgery and the injury was kind of a blessing in disguise because I was able to get in the best shape I've ever been in and really focus on things I needed to do to play every day and play this game for a long time, which is what everyone wants to do.
"You don't want to just be that flash-in-the-pan reliever who has a couple good years and then you never hear from him again. I want to be a guy who's pitching every year, healthy, and be reliable. That's the guy I want to be and I think I can be."