Wood strong in Double-A outing

Wood strong in Double-A outing

CHICAGO -- Kerry Wood threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings for Double-A Tennessee in what was expected to be his final Minor League tuneup before the right-hander is added to the Chicago Cubs' bullpen.

If Wood, who has been battling shoulder injuries since 2005, feels good on Wednesday, he could be activated as early as Thursday.

The right-hander entered Tuesday's game against West Tenn with one out in the seventh, and walked the first batter he faced. Wood then struck out Rene Rivera and got Christopher Minaker to popup.

In the West Tenn eighth, Wood got the first two batters to ground out to the third baseman, and then Charlton Jimerson popped up to end the inning. Wood threw 24 pitches, 15 for strikes. Tennessee won, 5-2.

"Roles can change," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Tuesday, "but I'll use him in the middle. We'll build up some stamina, build up some strength. He hasn't been on the mound for a long long time in a Major League game. We have to get him acclimated first and foremost. We have to build some stamina for him. The middle is the best place to do that."

Wood began his career as a starter, but was very effective pitching in relief in 2005. He compiled a 2.25 ERA in 11 relief appearances, striking out 17 over 12 innings before his shoulder forced him to shut it down. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder in late August that year, and has been trying to come back ever since.

The right-hander, who struck out 20 in his fifth big league start in 1998, is hoping to make a successful switch to setup pitcher.

"No. 1, he's as good a guy as we've ever had here," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said of Wood. "He's very beloved by his teammates, a team guy. I've watched this guy pitch for 10 years, and in a lot of pain some times and a lot of discomfort. I don't think there's anybody we've had who the guys in the clubhouse or the people in the front office want to come back more than him.

"I see a different bounce in his step than I have the last couple years," Hendry said. "I think he feels good about his chances. When you're throwing a lot of strikes like he is and the next day recovery time is really good -- tonight's the last hurdle for him. If he can throw more than one inning tonight and feel good [Wednesday], we'll look at activating him on Thursday and no later than Friday."

Wood did pitch this spring, but had to stop because of discomfort and tendinitis in his shoulder. There was a point in his rehab when he thought he'd have to undergo another operation.

"I think he felt a sense of desperation that if it doesn't work this time, then I have to regroup and decide where my future is going," Hendry said of Wood. "At 30 years old, it'd be a shame if he didn't have more years in him."

The Cubs did not pursue another reliever at the trading deadline because they were confident Wood can come back and help in the final two months of the season. This could be the beginning of a new career as a closer.

"If Woody's healthy, there's no question he'll get people out," Hendry said. "Whether that starts out in the sixth or seventh [innings] and moves to later, who knows? It'll take care of itself."

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