LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Alex Wood prepares to serve as an integral part of Atlanta's rotation, he realizes fans and critics will not give him as much leeway as he received last year when he was a successful rookie experiencing his first full season at the professional level.
"I feel more weight on my shoulders now than I ever did last year, because last year if I did well, I exceeded expectations," Wood said. "If I didn't, it was, 'Oh he's 22 years old,' or, 'He went through the Minor Leagues fast, he's going to have some growing pains.'
"Well, I really didn't experience many growing pains last year, so now what I did last year is what everyone expects. But I wouldn't have it any other way. My biggest thing is getting an opportunity. If I get an opportunity, I don't typically let it get away."
The Braves saw this confident, competitive spirit last year as Wood compiled a 3.13 ERA in 31 big league appearances (11 starts). As the young left-hander posted a 0.90 ERA in five August starts, he essentially guaranteed himself a spot in Atlanta's rotation for this upcoming season.
With Kris Medlen seemingly destined for season-ending Tommy John surgery and Brandon Beachy facing uncertainty about his future, the Braves are hoping Wood builds off his rookie success and becomes an integral part of their rotation.
By signing veteran starter Ervin Santana on Wednesday, the Braves regained some of the starting pitching depth that they will need in order to stick to the plan to limit Wood to approximately 170 innings during what will be his second full season at the professional level.
Braves chairman: 'We're in a winning mode'
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk did not waver when team president John Schuerholz called Monday to request that the club's payroll be expanded enough to account for the sudden need to pursue free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana.
Cognizant of the fact that Kris Medlen had suffered what appears to be a season-ending elbow injury less than 24 hours earlier, McGuirk provided his approval and then talked with pride on Wednesday morning when the Braves replenished their injury-depleted starting rotation by signing Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million contract.
"We're not in a rebuilding mode, we're in a winning mode," McGuirk said. "We're standing around right now in this clubhouse with a bunch of winners around us. We think the time is now. We've always been willing to add to the payroll and the substance of this club."
McGuirk flew from Atlanta to the Orlando area early Wednesday morning to be part of the uplifted atmosphere that was created when the Santana signing was announced.
This had been a rough week for the Braves, who saw elbow ailments force Medlen and Brandon Beachy to prematurely exit their respective starts less than 24 hours apart. But the addition of Santana seemed to rejuvenate the spirits of the defending National League East champions.
The Braves' payroll was expected to rest somewhere between $95-100 million by the time the season concluded. Santana's signing means the club will spend somewhere north of $107 million in payroll costs this year.
Given the talent the club has returning from last year's 96-win season, McGuirk viewed the sudden and significant payroll increase as both necessary and justified.
"It's the right time," McGuirk said. "Money was not the issue so much as, 'Is it the right time to do it?' We want to send a message to the guys in this clubhouse, our fans and our sponsors and the whole organization that we expect to win."
• Right-handed setup man Jordan Walden completed his fourth consecutive scoreless appearance during Wednesday's win over the Nationals. Walden was one of the most influential members of Atlanta's bullpen before he strained both of his groin muscles while jogging before a game near the end of August.
• As highly regarded prospect J.R. Graham allowed at least two baserunners to reach base in each of his first three appearances, he showed the rust that developed as he missed most of last season with a strained right shoulder. But Graham has looked sharper while not allowing a hit in his past two appearances. It appears the Braves are committed to using Graham as a reliever this season.
• Left-handed reliever Ian Thomas has garnered the attention of Atlanta's coaching staff this spring, as he has allowed one run, surrendered three hits and issued three walks in the 5 1/3 innings he has compiled in five Grapefruit League appearances. Thomas, 26, was pitching in an independent league when the Braves signed him midway through the 2012 season.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.