ATLANTA -- As the Braves have spent the past few weeks strengthening their comfortable lead atop the National League East, they have eagerly awaited September's arrival. But now that it has, Alex Wood already finds himself missing what was a memorable August.
With one flip of the calendar, Wood bid adieu to his recent run of dominance and was introduced to the inevitable struggles experienced by young pitchers at the Major League level. As Wood endured the roughest start of his career in Sunday's 7-0 loss to the Marlins, Nathan Eovaldi was once again having his way with Atlanta's offense.
With their magic number to clinch the division at 13, the Braves will quickly move past the frustration experienced in this lopsided loss that snapped their six-game winning streak. They have been shut out twice since June 22, and Eovaldi has served as the opposing starting pitcher in both contests.
"It's been a while since I got beat that bad," Wood said. "I actually can't remember the last time I had a day like today. It's hard to say it's going to happen once in a blue moon, because I feel like I'm going to go out and throw a shutout every time."
Wood entered this start with the confidence he had built while producing the second-lowest ERA (0.90) recorded by any rookie pitcher during the month of August dating back to 1955. But it did not take long to learn this first day of September would be quite different for him than any of the previous 31 that encompassed August.
By the time Wood was replaced by Freddy Garcia with one out in the third inning, he had allowed eight hits and seven earned runs. The 22-year-old southpaw had allowed just three runs in the 30 innings he compiled in five August starts. Included during this span was a scoreless six-inning effort in which he limited the Marlins to two hits.
Wood made the first two starts of his career against the Mets, but the outings were separated by two weeks. The Marlins' success could have had something to do with the fact that they had just gotten a taste of Wood's funky delivery and usually nasty repertoire three weeks ago.
"I don't think it has anything to do with getting a second look at me," Wood said. "I've already thrown against a lot of teams more than once [either as a starter or reliever]. It was just one of those days where I was out of sync and wasn't really following my game plan. They put good swings on the ball. You have to give them credit. They beat me like a drum today."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had a different view after seeing his young left-hander struggle in what was just his ninth career start.
"Everybody has video," Gonzalez said. "Everybody has scouts and all kind of stuff. They're going to make adjustments and we're going to have to make adjustments. I thought he just left some balls out over the plate."
Four batters into the contest, the Marlins had already recorded as many hits as they had when Wood had previously opposed them as a starting pitcher. Christian Yelich and Placido Polanco notched singles to account for a run in the first inning. The visitors added to their early advantage with Jeff Mathis' two-out solo home run in the second inning.
"The single I gave up to Polanco in the first inning, it was just a stupid pitch," Wood said. "That's literally all he's trying to do, just poke one over there over second base. You have a game plan, and you don't follow it for some reason."
Everything fell apart for Wood as he made his second turn through Miami's lineup. He surrendered consecutive singles to begin the third and then issued Polanco a one-out walk to load the bases. Donovan Solano and Ed Lucas followed with consecutive singles and Mathis, who entered the game hitting .190, provided the crushing blow when he capped the five-run frame with a two-run double.
As the inning unraveled, Wood was introduced to something he did not experience while holding opponents hitless in 24 at-bats with runners in scoring position in August.
"We haven't had that too many times, when we went out there and were able to put up more than two or three runs," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "Our guys came out aggressive. We strung a bunch of hits together, and got some big hits."
The Braves were fortunate that Wood's implosion occurred on the same day that they added Garcia's veteran presence to their expanded roster. The right-hander escaped the third inning without further damage and held the Marlins scoreless while completing 4 2/3 innings that prevented Gonzalez from having to tax his bullpen less than 24 hours Monday afternoon's game against the Mets.
After Eovaldi allowed one hit over seven scoreless innings against the Braves on Aug. 10, an NL scout said, "Joe DiMaggio would have had a hard time hitting him" that night. While Eovaldi might not have been as dominant in this outing, he was every bit as effective while scattering seven hits over eight innings.
"He was throwing really hard," Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "I saw balls on the corners. So if he's throwing that hard and painting, you can't do much."
The Braves squandered a bases-loaded threat in the fourth inning and saw Paul Janish get thrown out attempting to score on Jose Constanza's seventh-inning single. But there was never really a sense they would overcome the damage incurred by Wood.
"It's a game of failure," Wood said. "I've been fortunate to have a good last month. I still feel really confident about my stuff and abilities up here."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.