Mooney: Kerry Wood's back where he belongs

Mooney: Kerry Wood's back where he belongs
March 1, 2011, 2:35 am
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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.