Wood's splendid return Worth-while

Wood's splendid return Worth-while

CHICAGO -- The "K" cards were back at Wrigley Field.

Kerry Wood returned after a two-month injury hiatus to strike out nine over six innings in the Chicago Cubs' 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday. Todd Hollandsworth drove in the game-winner with a one-out RBI single in the ninth, but Wood was the hot topic.

"The first start for Kerry, he threw an awesome game," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "His control was good, his mechanics were good. It's a good sign when he's throwing like that."

Wood didn't get the win, but kept it close. He gave up one run on two hits -- including Bill Hall's leadoff homer in the fourth. Wood last started April 30 against Houston, and left that game with a strained right shoulder.

Fans in the left-field bleachers and on some of the rooftops surrounding Wrigley Field counted Wood's strikeouts with "K" cards, which had been missing while the right-hander rehabbed.

Wood did fine-tune his mechanics, but won't discuss the changes. There has to be a difference.

"I just don't have any pain," he said. "It's a lot easier to pitch when you don't have anything bothering you.

"It's just about getting in a rhythm," Wood said. "I came out in the first inning and made some good pitches. The next inning, you try to repeat that and make more good pitches. I was trying to repeat what I was doing out there."

What may have been even more important than his arm angle were 16 first-pitch strikes. He faced 22 batters.

"It's not just big for me, it's big for pitchers period," Wood said. "It makes your job a lot easier as a pitcher. Everybody would like to go out and get ahead, and today I got ahead of a lot of guys, and it helped."

It made it easier for Cubs catcher Michael Barrett.

"His delivery was good today, and he stayed consistent with all his pitches, and it made it easy to call his game," Barrett said. "You can really put down anything the way he throws. It definitely makes my job a heck of a lot more fun when you have guys like that who can dominate a game at any point.

"You knew he had a lot of strikeouts, but you didn't realize he had nine in six innings, and that's impressive, especially the first start back," Barrett said.

All Wood has to do is throw strikes to win.

"A lot of hitters don't want to get to two strikes [against him]," Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said, "because he can go upstairs with fastballs or throw the slider or curveball."

   Kerry Wood  /   P
Born: 06/16/77
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 225 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Wood did just that to Carlos Lee with a nasty curve to end the sixth inning.

"Once he got ahead of all the hitters, he kind of used his out pitch -- the slider -- and it got everybody out," Hall said. "He throws it real hard and it comes out just like his fastball. It's hard to lay off that."

Wood was pulled after throwing 91 pitches (65 strikes) and with a 2-1 lead, thanks to Jeromy Burnitz's tie-breaking homer in the Cubs' fourth. But Lyle Overbay ruined Wood's chances for the win when he led off the Brewers' seventh with his 10th home run off Glendon Rusch.

With the game tied at 2 in the Chicago ninth, Burnitz walked to lead off against Julio Santana (1-2) and reached second on Todd Walker's single that center fielder Brady Clark just missed grabbing on a diving catch. Hollandsworth then smacked a single to center, and Burnitz scampered home with the game-winning run. Hollandsworth also hit an RBI single in the second. Roberto Novoa (2-1) picked up the win in relief.

Back to Wood, whose start comes three days after Mark Prior made a dazzling return with six scoreless innings against the Chicago White Sox. The Cubs may finally be whole.

"We feel very good and confident that we finally got our pitching staff back that we were starting with," Baker said. "When you can put a guy like Rusch in the bullpen and Sergio [Mitre], it builds everything. Now it's kind of the glue putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I feel a whole lot better having those guys back. It's like having your whole army back."

"The possibilities are endless for what this team can do," Hollandsworth said.

"We all feel pretty good about where we're at right now," Barrett said. "We all knew if we could keep our heads above water with all the injuries we had, that when these guys come back healthy we'll have a shot to make a good run at this thing and go from there."

Heading into the second half with a fresh Wood and Prior will give the Cubs a boost.

"I'm glad to be back, I know Mark's glad to be back and I think the guys are glad to have us back," Wood said. "It's just fun to be out there."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.