Mooney: Kerry Wood's back where he belongs

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Mooney: Kerry Wood's back where he belongs

Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
Posted 8:35 p.m. Updated 10:16 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Kerry Wood has spent almost half his life in the public eye. The fans have watched him drag his body off the disabled list 14 times, and push the Cubs to within one game of the World Series. They think they know him more than most.

That Wood isnt out for every last dollar, and appreciates the opportunity to play at Wrigley Field, has only deepened those feelings.

There were only 5,405 fans at HoHoKam Park, but a noticeable section stood to give Wood an ovation. It was probably as loud as you could expect on a Monday afternoon, in the sixth inning of a game where the hitters wore Nos. 74, 75, 76 and 77.

Its better than getting booed off the field when you come back, Wood said after a 5-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The initial wave of spring-training interviews has passed. Yes, he took less money, a one-year deal worth 1.5 million, because he wanted to come home and raise his children in Chicago.

With all the attention that decision brought, it gets harder to find a new angle. For so long this pitcher had been at the center of everything the Cubs were trying to accomplish. Yet hes almost flown under the radar this month.

I love it. Ive been practicing for 10 years, Wood said. I know when they let (media) in (the clubhouse) and I know when you have to get out.

Wood allowed two runs in one inning on Monday, but felt like his breaking balls were moving well, and that his command has been particularly sharp this spring. Thats important because the Cubs need more than intangibles.

The Cubs bullpen ranked second-to-last in the majors with a 4.72 ERA last season and that was with Sean Marshall emerging as one of the games best left-handed setup men and Carlos Marmol getting 38 saves in 43 chances.

Everybody appreciates who (Wood) is and how loyal he has been, manager Mike Quade said. Ive said from Day 1 how happy I am to have him. But Id like to see that breaking ball show up all year. (Its) nice to have (him) back, but its going to be a lot more than that if he pitches well and helps us get the ball to Marmol.

Wood is willing to be a mentor, and a calming influence in the bullpen, but hes being paid to get outs. James Russells father pitched 14 seasons in the big leagues, but growing up in Texas there were two names that stood out: Nolan Ryan and Wood.

The way people talk about him, its like hes at the end of the road almost, but hes 33, Russell said. Hes still got plenty of time to pitch. When you look at the way he throws, hes still throwing 95, 96 mph, and bumping it up there.

But performance isnt the only thing Wood will be remembered for in Chicago.

This is where I grew up, Wood said. This is where I feel like I belong.

Etc.

The Brewers put the defensive shift on Carlos Pena, who got that all the time in Tampa Bay and wasnt surprised to see it, even in spring training. The Cubs have committed six errors combined in their first two Cactus League games. We got work to do, Quade said. Period. Randy Wells, who threw two scoreless innings Monday, is thrilled with the idea of a rotation competition: Whatever, happy to be here. I have a job. It could be a lot worse." Fernando Perez, who had surgery on his left wrist almost two years ago, survived making a great diving catch in center: I just took a tumble that I didnt really enjoy that much. Ill be fine. Quades open to the idea of using Carlos Zambrano as a pinch-hitter. Interesting pitching matchup Tuesday in Scottsdale: Ryan Dempster vs. San Franciscos Tim Lincecum (2:05 p.m., Cubs.com audio broadcast).

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Miami Marlins on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., followed by first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the call. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (3-8, 4.19 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – the 75-mph curveball out of his left hand flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground. 

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work late Saturday afternoon after J.T. Realmuto’s two-out, three-run homer in the first inning. This is the bulldog determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the big-market pressures at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

“You really just have to lock it down,” Lester said after doing just that in a 5-3 win. “You have to try to figure out a way to pitch innings. That was one thing I learned at an early age in Boston with ‘Schill’ (Curt Schilling) and Josh (Beckett). It doesn’t matter. Now we start over. You have to take that mindset of ‘It’s back to zero’ and not keep looking at the scoreboard.”

From that Realmuto moment, Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that performance to buy time for their young hitters, weather a series of injuries and survive a brutal schedule.

Lester believed enough in the coming waves of talent to sign with a last-place team after the 2014 season, and got rewarded with his third World Series ring, continually impressed with this group’s poise and maturity.

The day after getting shut out for the sixth time this season, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. – four 24-and-under players – combined to go 7-for-15 with five RBI and four runs scored.

“It’s a test for everybody,” Lester said. “These guys are kind of getting broken in early. They’re going to figure it out and we’re going to go. Now it seems like our guys are really feeling comfortable at the plate. We’re having good at-bats, normal at-bats.

“The results will come. This is, obviously, a results-driven industry. But the plans – as far as on the mound and in the batter’s box – just look a lot smoother right now, a lot cleaner and hopefully we can just keep playing good baseball.”

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The Cubs are 38-36, a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers and in position to win three consecutive series for the first time since April. Whether or not Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) returns to Little Havana for the All-Star Game, he is the bellwether for this rotation.  

“Jonny’s just got this thing going on right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He knows where the ball is going and he gets the high-number velocity when he wants to. He’s not just pitching at 92, 93, 94 (mph). It’s in his back pocket when he needs it. And he gets it with command when he wants it.

“As well as I’ve seen him pitch – I know he had a great run last year also – from a stuff perspective, command perspective, it’s as good as he can pitch.”

This $155 million investment will at some point become a sunk cost. The Cubs understand the history of nine-figure contracts for pitchers and how desperately they need reinforcements. But almost 100 innings into this title defense, Lester feels like he’s just getting started. 

“I feel better now than I did in April and May, for sure,” Lester said. “I think bigger bodies just take a while sometimes. Some years are different than others. Some years you come out like gangbusters and you’re ready to go and the body feels fine. And other years it takes a while to get into that rhythm of pitching every five days again. This was one of those years.”