Wood, Cubs satisfied with start
Starter, team give pitcher clean bill of health
MESA, Ariz. -- Any lingering doubts about Kerry Wood's health were eliminated Wednesday.
The Chicago Cubs pitcher threw 92 pitches over five innings and picked up the win in the 5-4 decision over the Colorado Rockies.
It was Wood's first start since March 9, a start he left early due to tightness in his right shoulder. Some tightness in his lower back kept him out of another start, and he's been pitching on the back field at HoHoKam Park since then.
"It was nice to get out there and face some hitters in a different uniform and work on some stuff," Wood said.
He gave up eight hits and four walks over five innings. Wood struck out three, including the last two batters he faced, and left to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 12,718 at HoHoKam Park.
"We're almost whole," said Cubs manager Dusty Baker, who now needs to be able to write Mark Prior into the rotation. "It's a good feeling to be almost whole. We weren't almost whole until August last year."
Wood will throw a couple innings Sunday in Arizona, and is on schedule to start the Cubs' home opener April 8 against Milwaukee.
"It was great to see and he looked strong," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said of Wood, whose fastball registered 95 mph on the radar gun. "He was free and easy. It was good to see him punch out the last guys on real good stuff. Hopefully, we'll get five out of Mark on Saturday. Hopefully we won't be too far away from being completely tuned up."
Prior will face Triple-A hitters in Arizona on Saturday rather than test his elbow in the Cubs' last Cactus League game in Las Vegas against Seattle. If all goes well, he could start the Cubs' April 12 game against San Diego.
Wood was the focus Wednesday.
"Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach] wanted him to get a real long workout, hoping to get five [innings] in," Hendry said. "It's a testimony to where Woody's strength is. It wasn't an injury we were ever worried about. It's a matter of building up his endurance to get ready for the second series of the season."
"The fastball and everything, my mechanics felt good," Wood said about his outing. "I got a lot of two strikes on guys and couldn't put them away. My breaking ball wasn't where I'd like it to be at this point. That's a small adjustment we can make, maybe something with the grip. Overall, I was pleased."
Did he answer all questions about his health?
"For me, they were answered because of the throwing I'd been doing," Wood said. "I hadn't pitched in actual games, but I'd been throwing on the backfield and in simulated games and working in the bullpen so [Wednesday's game] didn't do anything to me except get some more work in."
"I wasn't real worried," Baker said. "He had a pretty good outing his last time in a simulated game and didn't feel any effects. I wasn't as worried as everybody else was worried. He threw the ball pretty good. He showed great velocity and pretty good control."
Wood said the tightness in his shoulder and back weren't really setbacks.
"It was just a little glitch," he said. "We took the right approach and got it taken care of."
Wood has chosen not to give daily updates to the media regarding his rehab.
"There are times to talk and times when, in my opinion, nothing good comes out of talking about stuff that happened last year or something that somebody said," Wood said. "I'll stick to talking about what I do on the field and stick with that."
Like responding to critics outside of the team who say Wood's mechanics are to blame for his injuries.
"To me that speaks more about what happened last year," Wood said. "That's a sure sign of where it started last year. I came to Spring Training and was doing my job and then that stuff starts coming up. I choose not to comment on it, I choose not to say anything back. It's a waste of time, a waste of breath and a waste of ink for all you guys."
It wasn't difficult for Wood to deal with.
"I knew how I was doing and how I felt," Wood said. "The ultimate goal is for me to get out there and make my starts and that's my job to go out there and pitch. Off the field stuff, I don't give much thought to."
And how will he deal with those who question his mechanics?
"My mechanics felt pretty good today," Wood said. "The experts out there, I don't know what to say. Write me letters. Teach me how to pitch."
The right-hander, who was originally scheduled to start Opening Day and then pushed back because of his shoulder, had a little difficulty with his slider Wednesday. Baker wasn't worried.
"Down here, it's hard to have all your pitches," Baker said. "Sliders don't seem to slide here in the light air, and breaking balls don't seem to break. The main thing is that he was healthy. That's the main thing."
Last spring, Wood was 5-0 in Cactus League games and had no unusual aches or pains or glitches to deal with. The end result was his first losing season at 8-9 with a 3.72 ERA and two months on the disabled list with a strained triceps. This year, he feels strong.
"Last year was probably the best I felt and the worst results I got," he said. "We'll just throw the dice and see what happens."
It'll be a lot chillier April 8 in Chicago than in Arizona.
"I love Chicago, I love pitching there," Wood said. "It'll be nice and cold."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.