Cubs' Wood skips surgery on shoulder

Cubs' Wood skips surgery on shoulder

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood has decided not to have surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, and also has accepted that he may have to pitch in relief rather than start when he does return.

Wood, 29, had two options regarding his shoulder, and he chose to take a conservative approach after consulting with orthopedic specialists such as Dr. David Altchek and Dr. Lewis Yocum as well as other pitchers such as Pedro Martinez who have had similar injuries. The tear was revealed in an MRI arthrogram on Wood's shoulder on July 7.

"Now it's time to get to work," said Wood, who has already begun his rehab.

Wood had been a starter his entire career until last season, when he pitched in relief while dealing with shoulder problems. He was stellar, posting a 2.25 ERA in 11 games.

"I'm probably not going to be coming back as a starter," Wood said Wednesday. "I need to go out and pitch and I need to get some innings. I need to be healthy. Probably the best way to do that for me is to limit the innings, limit the pitches until I'm comfortable and positive I can make 34, 35 starts with 110 pitches every fifth day. Coming off another season of rehab, I don't know if I can do that right now."

Wood's first goal is to be pain free. He could be back in the rotation at some point.

"For me, [pitching in relief] is a starting point to be able to pitch against big-league hitters, get guys out, and build from there," he said. "Who's to say the following year or later in the year or two years from now or five years from now I might decide to come back and start again."

Was it easy to come to terms with that?

"It's pretty simple," Wood said. "If I want to pitch in the big leagues and stay healthy, it's the best decision."

He wouldn't be the first pitcher to go from a starter to a reliever and back to the rotation. John Smoltz did it.

"That's something that he had been avoiding, and we had been avoiding with him," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "He showed he could be very, very good last year out of the bullpen. There've been some guys who have come out and done it well and gone on to the Hall of Fame relieving. If he thinks he can do it, I'll be happy for him."

It's been a difficult year for Wood, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last August. He made four starts from May 18-June 6 before he had to go on the disabled list again because of discomfort in his shoulder. He was 1-2 with a 4.12 ERA in 19 2/3 innings, and picked up the only win on May 29 against Cincinnati.

Wood has a career 71-56 record and 3.68 ERA in 189 games for the Cubs. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1998, when he was 13-6, including a 20-strikeout game against Houston in his fifth big-league start.

Will he come back with the Cubs? The team has control of that decision. Wood did not total enough innings this year, and the team holds the option for 2007.

"I haven't thought of that yet," Wood said of where he'll pitch next season. "We'll sit down and talk to Jim [Hendry, the Cubs general manager]. They'll make the best decision for the organization and I'll make the best decision for me and my family."

"It's all a risk in the first place," Baker said. "It just depends on how much risk you're willing to take."

Wood didn't know when he would be able to pick up a ball. He will return to Arizona soon to consult with his physical therapist there and get his game plan set. He does expect to be ready to go in spring 2007.

"It's been done -- it can be done," he said of his comeback.

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