Braves' left-hander Alex Wood hopes to shine in his 1st full season as a starting pitcher

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DUNEDIN, Florida — Alex Wood's breakout campaign with the Atlanta Braves last season may have come as a surprise to some people.

The hard-throwing lefty, however, wasn't one of them.

Between stints in the bullpen and starting rotation during his second big-league season, the 24-year-old Wood emerged as a blossoming star for the rebuilding Braves, going 11-11 with a 2.78 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 35 games.

Wood, known for his quirky delivery, said he has always established high expectations for himself, going back to his days as a high-school standout in Charlotte, North Carolina and then, collegiately at Georgia.

But even with the assurance of a full-time spot in the rotation for the first time this season, the former second-round pick in the 2012 draft, has been careful not to let himself become too comfortable.

"I look at it as one of those things where baseball is a cruel game. It will humble you real quick, so I try to stay even keel," Wood said. "To me, I look at it as a feeling of when I do well, that's what I expect of myself. That's what this organization expects of me."

If Atlanta hopes to remain competitive in the NL East, those expectations for Wood will be heightened after the offseason departures of seasoned right-handers Kris Medlin, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang.

Wood currently finds himself as one of the team's most experienced returning pitchers behind 14-game-winner Julio Teheran, who will start the season opener at Miami on Monday.

"I'm just trying to go out there and give my team the best chance I can to win," Wood said. "If I can come in here (the clubhouse) and get my work in after the game and tell myself that's what I did, then I'm happy about it. It's one of those things where you love to win more than you hate to lose."

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Wood's ability to prosper against tough lineups during spring training has given him confidence that the southpaw is up to the challenge.

In his most recent outing on Saturday against a Toronto split squad, Wood worked his way into a couple jams against a predominantly right-handed-hitting lineup that featured sluggers Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion.

Wood stayed calm, though, and got out of them relatively unscathed. He allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings.

"It was nice to see that he had to get out of those jams, working through those things," Gonzalez said, "because sometimes you go 1-2-3, 1-2-3 every single time, it's a little different. You don't get the adrenaline, the juices flowing. . He did great."

Wood's expectations for himself are true for the rest of Atlanta's pitching staff as well.

With the addition of starter Shelby Miller -- acquired in November from St. Louis in exchange for outfielder Jason Heyward - and other bullpen pieces such as veterans Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli, Wood believes they will surprise.

Much like he did last season.

"On paper, on the field — any way you want to look at it, I think we've got the makings of a good staff," Wood said. "Anybody that has watched our games this spring can see we are playing baseball the way it is supposed to be played. We're executing. We're doing the things we need to do.

"It's exciting, man," he added. "Come opening day, I know we'll have a lot of guys with a lot of chips on their shoulders, ready to go out there and go to battle."

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