Wood slated for first start of season

Wood slated to make first start of season

CHICAGO -- Kerry Wood is slated to make his first start of the season for the Cubs on Thursday against the Nationals.

Wood made his second Minor League rehab start on Friday for Triple-A Iowa, throwing 85 pitches over five innings.

"Physically, I feel pretty good," Wood said Saturday in the Cubs' clubhouse. "I think it'll progress. I don't think we'll be throwing 120, 130 [pitches] this year, but it'll keep going as long as I keep pitching."

Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Wood will do a side session on Sunday, and have an extra side before starting Thursday.

"He wasn't quite as good as the time before [when he struck out 12 for Class A Peoria], but you expect some of that at this point," Rothschild said. "He's getting to where he'd be close to the end of Spring Training. He pitched well [at Iowa]; he was up to 85 pitches. He's built up the arm. We're going to have to watch him here for awhile but this is the place for him to do it."

Wood had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in late August. In 2005, he was 3-3 with a 4.67 ERA in 10 starts and then made 11 relief appearances, going 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Thursday's start will be his first since last July 20 when he went three innings against Cincinnati.

Recovery is the key, and Wood said he felt better on Saturday than he did after his first Minor League rehab start on May 7.

"That's a good sign," Wood said. "It's my fourth start. It feels like I'm in Spring Training still. I don't think I ever come out of Spring Training throwing 96, 97 [mph]. I wouldn't expect it to change after shoulder surgery. I'm building my arm strength and getting my pitch count up."

As for Mark Prior, who is rehabbing from a strained muscle in his right shoulder, he'll throw a three-inning simulated game on Sunday in Mesa, Ariz. If Prior passes that test, the next step would be to pitch in a Rookie League game in Mesa.

Wade Miller, who had a similar procedure as Wood only one month later, is "right behind Mark," Rothschild said.

"[Miller] threw two sets of 20 [pitches] in batting practice the day before and felt real good," Rothschild said of the right-hander. "It's the best he's felt, he said, in two years, since way before the surgery. Those are real positives. Hopefully, we can get them all going in games.

"It'd be nice to have them in the rotation and give us the strength we thought we'd have at some point this year," he said.

The Cubs could use some positives.

"It's great to see [Wood] in the locker room," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "He's a big part of this ballclub, a big part of the leadership on this pitching staff. We're finally starting to get some of our guys back. It feels good to all of us, including him."

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