04/01/2004 1:43 PM ET
Wood ready for Opening Day
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
|Kerry Wood finished the spring with a 1.05 ERA. (Roy Dabner/AP)
MESA, Ariz. -- If Kerry Wood can keep up the same pace this season that he did during the spring, he'll win 30 games.
It's not likely, but Wood has looked unhittable in his Cactus League outings, going 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA in March. And the right-hander can't wait to get the 2004 season underway with the Chicago Cubs. He's the Opening Day starter, and will be on the mound Monday when the Cubs begin against the Cincinnati Reds.
"This is the best I've seen Woody this early," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "His control, his composure, his mechanics, everything is a lot smoother, which should equate to a lot fewer pitches because that's where Woody gets in trouble. His pitch count gets high in a very short period of time. Hopefully this will carry through the year. He's a lot calmer and seems a lot more relaxed. I think he's headed for a big year."
Wood made his final tune-up on Wednesday, giving up one hit and one walk over four innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. He struck out four.
Wood finished the spring with a 1.05 ERA, giving up three earned runs in 25 2/3 innings. He struck out 25 and walked nine.
"I'm pleased with the way I've thrown the ball and pleased with the work I've gotten done and the consistency I've been looking for seems to have been there this spring," Wood said. "I'm just looking to carry that into the season."
He's not as giddy as Cubs catcher Michael Barrett is.
"With a guy like that and the stuff that he has, with that kind of ability, it's a lot of fun to catch," Barrett said of Wood. "Just to watch him dominate the hitters is fun. I've had an opportunity to catch (Javier Vazquez) when he can get hot like that but since I've been here, Kerry's been overpowering and it's been amazing. It's been more fun than I ever expected.
"He's locked in, he's hitting his spots with his fastball and he's working on a fourth pitch at the same time that's coming along," Barrett said. "He has a split-finger that's coming along real nice and could be a great weapon to use."
This will be Wood's second consecutive Opening Day start. The Cubs won the opener last year against the New York Mets, 15-2. Monday's forecast in Cincinnati calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures around 56. Not bad, but not Arizona.
"I'm looking at it more that it's going to be cold," Wood said of Opening Day. "It's going to be different weather-wise. It's definitely going to count but more so the weather will be the biggest factor."
Considering the hype the Cubs have received this spring, Wood should have plenty of Chicago fans at Great American Ball Park to root him on. The right-hander is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's baseball preview issue but he's not worried about any jinx.
"It didn't jinx Michael Jordan and he was on it quite a bit," Wood said. "I'm not comparing myself to Michael Jordan by any means."
The Cubs have had to deal with their share of bad luck this spring with the loss of Mark Prior to injury. He's expected back by May -- maybe.
"As a pitching staff and teammates, you hope he gets back and doesn't rush anything and stays healthy and gets back on track," Wood said, "but from our standpoint it doesn't change what we have to do. We have to go out and get outs and do our jobs and concentrate a little more without him in the rotation. We've got some good young arms that can step in and fill that role. You're not going to replace a Mark Prior by any means. You've got to pick up the slack."
Right-hander Sergio Mitre will step into Prior's spot in the rotation, following Wood, Greg Maddux, Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano.
"I like the way he throws the ball," Wood said of Mitre. "I like his attitude when he's on the mound, I like his demeanor. I like everything about him. He knows how to pitch. He's got the stuff to go out there and do it."
Wood is too familiar with rehab and the nuisance it can be. He's not about to join the legions that go up to Prior and ask how he's feeling every day.
"When I went through my injury, I got more tired of hearing it," said Wood, who missed the 1999 season following elbow surgery. "The media asks and the fans ask and teammates ask and that's all you ever talk about. I try to talk about different stuff with him."
Like expectations. They're high for the Cubs this season. Wood has had high expectations every year.
"We expect to go out and win," he said. "We expect to be good. We expect to do more than we did last year and go deeper and win the World Series. That's the goal. That's what we expect. Spring Training for me is over and now we have to go out and prove it."
Reaching the playoffs last year certainly helped the young Cubs staff. Wood was 2-1 with a 1.77 ERA in his three post-season starts. He didn't spend the off-season thinking about losing Game 7 in the National League Championship Series or what should've been.
"You can say that with every game," Wood said. "You can go through the course of a 162-game season and say we should've won that one, we should've won that one. Therefore we shouldn't be in last place; we should be in the playoffs. It doesn't always work that way."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.