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Slimmer Wood ready for bullpen role

Slimmer Wood ready for bullpen role

MESA, Ariz. -- It's a good thing Kerry Wood still wears No. 34, because it's hard to recognize Kid K. And that's not because the Cubs right-hander is now a reliever and not a starter.

Wood changed his diet, increased his training and dropped 30-plus pounds this offseason. The leaner right-hander is projected as a middle reliever, but there's been talk that Wood will someday take over the closer duties. What kind of closer could he be?

"I don't know," Wood said Wednesday at Fitch Park. "I don't know what kind of pitcher I can be right now. I'm just trying to go out and be a pitcher. I'm not looking at a spot. I think we have a closer. Our bullpen looks great, our starters look great. To me, the team looks awesome. I'm excited to go out and be a part of it and fit in with the guys out there."

The slim, trim Wood decided to change his eating habits after the regular season ended. He had gained a few pounds in the final month of the season, and was headed into an offseason of rehab for a partially torn right rotator cuff.

"I think I had some weight to lose," said Wood, who is officially listed in the media guide as weighing 225, his same weight as last season. "I put on some pounds at the end of the season sitting around after I got hurt and not playing and watching baseball. When you're not doing anything and traveling with the guys, you're just going to gain weight. I was a little heavier than I needed to be, definitely."

He didn't limit himself to half a grapefruit or Slimfast bars. Instead, he had meals delivered to his home, so the food was the right portion size and fresh. Whatever company provided the food should sign Wood up to endorse the plan. How much did he lose?

"Somewhere around 30," Wood said. "It fluctuates every now and then."

He's not the only Cubs pitcher who lost weight this offseason. Ryan Dempster is much trimmer. Scott Eyre has dropped a few pounds. But Wood's change is the most dramatic.

"I came out here [to Arizona] in August, and got to work and changed my diet and did what I needed to do to get healthy," Wood said. "I changed the way I live, changed the way I eat, changed the way I do a lot of things.

"I would say this is the first season that I trained," he said. "In the past, I've worked out and gotten in shape, but this year I trained for the season. So it's a little bit different."

Pitching in relief isn't new to Wood, who did so in 2005, making 11 appearances out of the pen. He put together a 2.25 ERA in those outings, and was easily hitting 98 mph on the stadium radar guns. Still, heading into the season as a reliever is new.

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"I'm very excited," Wood said. "I feel great, and that's the most exciting thing for me is coming to Spring Training feeling great. My arm feels as good as it's felt in many years. I don't have any concerns about that. It's exciting to come in healthy and knowing you can go out and do stuff every day and go out and pitch."

This isn't a one-year experiment.

"I'm treating it as some way to get back in the game," he said. "In my mind, I've been out of the game for two years. It's a way to get back in the game and pitch at this level and be competitive.

"Obviously, I want to contribute and be part of a winning season," he said. "The key is to stay healthy and pitch a complete season, and we can assess all that stuff at the end of the season."

So, maybe he will try to return to the rotation in 2008?

"It hasn't even crossed my mind," he said.

The good news is that Wood's shoulder is cooperating. He's been throwing for two months, and there are no restrictions on what he can do on the mound.

"I'm letting it go and throwing all my pitches," Wood said. "It's nice to go on the mound and actually work on stuff instead of worrying if it's going to hurt. It's nice to get up and go."

He'd like to avoid the disabled list. Wood began last season still rehabbing from arthroscopic shoulder surgery, which he had in August 2005. He was able to pitch in four games from May 18 to June 6, but they weren't good outings and his velocity was off.

When the tear was revealed, Wood opted to skip another operation and rehab. That tear may never completely heal.

"Probably not all the way, but it's definitely strong enough to do it's job," he said.

Which might mean throwing 98 mph fastballs in the ninth inning. New Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he's not looking for a closer.

"Going into camp here, Dempster is our closer," Piniella said. "Everybody in the organization feels he will bounce back, including me. With Kerry, we'll get him work in the middle in Spring Training. We'll let him get used to the feel of pitching in the bullpen and hopefully he can develop into a nice, meaningful late-inning pitcher for us."

But if Piniella asked, would Wood close?

"We'll have to see," Wood said. "I've had 11 appearances out of the bullpen, total. My mindset has always been as a starter. Coming out of the bullpen is a little different. I'm new at that. It's still a learning process."

There is one other issue Wood will have to address this year. He turns 30 on June 16.

"My wife has thought about it a few times," Wood said. "She keeps bringing it up. We're both going to be 30 this year. I feel good. I've felt worse some days when I was 26. I feel like I have a new look on things for this season."

He'll be needing some new clothes to fit his thin physique.

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

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }