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Wood likely to return on Friday

Wood likely to return on Friday

CHICAGO -- Get the "K" cards ready. You won't need 20 -- six should be more than enough. Kerry Wood is coming back.

Wood threw 1 2/3 innings on Tuesday night for Double-A Tennessee in his final rehab outing, and passed all tests on Wednesday. The Cubs plan on activating him Friday for their game against the New York Mets.

"All systems are go, and I would think Friday would be the day," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Wednesday.

Wood, sidelined because of a cranky right shoulder, will be used in relief, most likely in the middle innings and not late or as the closer. At least not now. The goal is to build up stamina and arm strength and, most important, keep him healthy.

"I think he'll do a real nice job," Piniella said. "He's throwing the ball really well. I know our pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, was really encouraged when he saw him throw the ball in Cincinnati over the weekend. He said it was coming out of his hand nice and easy, had good life on it, his slider had good rotation and spin.

"Keeping him healthy is what we have to concern ourselves with," Piniella said. "We won't overuse him, but he'll help our bullpen out."

Wood can't wait.

"I think the adrenaline will be my main focus and I have to try to control that," Wood said. "It's easier said than done. I sure will be glad to get that first one out of the way."

He last pitched in the big leagues on June 6, 2006. Wood made 10 starts in 2005, then switched to the 'pen for 11 games because of discomfort in his shoulder. In late August that year, he had arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder, and was able to come back and make four starts in 2006. He did pitch this spring, but had to be shut down again because of tendinitis.

Now, he's almost back, and the 30-year-old right-hander, who once struck out 20 in a game, will receive a hero's welcome from the Wrigley Field crowd when he does take the mound for the first time.

"As a manager, I respect a young man who has worked as hard as he has to get to where he's at now," Piniella said. "He's had to battle some odds. I look forward to it as a fan as much as I do as his manager watching him step on the mound here in Wrigley and being part of that first day. I think it'll be fun for everybody."

Wood's final tuneup was good -- he walked one and struck out one over 1 2/3 innings -- and the velocity is around 92-94 mph. The Cubs have plenty of solid right-handers in the 'pen now, and Wood will be asked to complement Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol, Bob Howry, and Michael Wuertz.

"I just want to slide right in and go unnoticed and unseen and be part of the winning process," Wood said.

It's unlikely he'll be unnoticed. Wood has been one of the most popular players on the Cubs since his spectacular 1998 season when he won National League Rookie of the Year. He helped the team win the NL Central with a 14-11 record, and was a major factor in the postseason. The Cubs began Wednesday one game behind Milwaukee in the division. It could be a lot of fun at Wrigley if the team makes the playoffs.

"I was talking to Cliff [Floyd] about how it's getting crazy," Wood said. "I said, 'You haven't seen anything yet.' Guys are excited and fans are excited, and I'm excited to be back."

"Let's take baby steps first and get him out there and see how he's doing," Piniella said. "This guy, he's a battler. He's worked hard to get to where he's at now. I think it's going to be electric for the people here in Wrigley when he steps on the mound. I look forward to seeing that myself."

By coming back, Wood will have stories to tell his young son, Justin. The right-hander can reflect then on all the hard work he did to get to this point.

"When the season is over, I can do that," Wood said. "I feel like I should've been here all season. I'm going to go out and do the best I can the last couple months.

"This is what I do -- play baseball," he said. "It was taken away from me for a little while. Hard work pays off."

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

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