Lone lefty in the mix, Wood seeks spot in rotation

Sveum impressed with bullpen sessions from Samardzija, Jackson, Garza

Lone lefty in the mix, Wood seeks spot in rotation

MESA, Ariz. -- It was only the first day of workouts, but Travis Wood's bullpen session definitely got Cubs manager Dale Sveum's attention.

Sveum noted that the ball was coming out of the left-hander's hand well on Tuesday, and that Wood looked much different than a year ago. That's all good.

"You try to look back on the season and figure out what you still need to work on and what was good and what you just need to fine-tune," Wood said of his offseason. "I took the same approach in the offseason that they wanted me to take throughout the season, which is continue to work on the side and spin pitches, and so far, so good."

Wood is one of the seven candidates for the rotation, and the only lefty, which may give him an edge. With Scott Baker recovering from Tommy John surgery and Matt Garza sidelined last year with an elbow injury, the Cubs have depth, but also have openings.

On Wednesday, the power trio of Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson had their bullpen sessions. Sveum was happy with Garza's changeup, saying the right-hander has made some mechanical adjustments. Jackson threw about "80 percent," Sveum said. Samardzija, who is vying for the Opening Day spot, was most impressive.

"Samardzija, you would've thought it was playoff time," Sveum said. "That was about as dominant a bullpen as you're going to see. It was pretty impressive to watch him throw those 30 pitches today."

One thing the Cubs haven't had is three starting pitchers who possess the velocity and ability that Garza, Samardzija and Jackson do.

"It's nice as a manager, the players, the organization, to know you have three guys who have no-hitter stuff when they walk up on the mound," Sveum said. "One, they have experience; two, they have great stuff, and three, they all throw over 95 miles an hour, which is always a huge plus."

Most teams want at least one lefty in the rotation, just to mix things up. In a perfect world, Wood would have that spot. The Cubs may decide they have a better chance neutralizing the Reds' Joey Votto and Jay Bruce with a lefty on the mound.

"For the most part, you're going to take the five best starters and 25 best players," Sveum said.

Wood said he's focusing on the positives of last year.

"It's a new season," Wood said. "Everything starts fresh. You don't even think about last year and you go out there and pitch every five days and try to give your team a chance to win.

"I'm still fighting for a job," he said. "We'll see what happens. We have a lot of good guys here."

Wood didn't have a good spring last year, giving up 17 earned runs on 24 hits over 14 1/3 innings in five games, and was assigned to Triple-A Iowa. He made a spot start for the Cubs on May 6 against the Dodgers, and delivered a quality start -- three hits and three runs over six innings. He joined the big league team for good May 22, and then went on a little bit of a roller-coaster ride. Wood won four straight starts from June 19-July 6, then went 0-8 in his next 10 starts.

"That's baseball," Wood said. "It could've been mechanical, it could've been bad luck. Who knows? You'll never know. I felt I finished the season strong. I think it was right after the All-Star break, I had a few bad games, and then finished strong. I try not to think about it, it's a new year."

The lefty finished 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA in a career-high 26 starts. The Cubs actively pursued starters this offseason, signing free agents Baker, Jackson, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva. That means more competition, but Wood didn't worry.

"It's something we needed to do," Wood said. "We needed pitching."

And he's hoping he's one of the five.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.