Improving Wood hits snag vs. Marlins

CHICAGO – Travis Wood’s transformation from worst spring training ever to dominating regular-season starter hit a snag Tuesday against the Miami Marlins.

Adapting to a new pitching strategy this season, Wood has been making his first year in Chicago a success, but not after stumbling badly in Arizona this past March. He was one of the first pitchers to take himself out of contention for an Opening Day starting spot and started the season at Triple-A Iowa.

Even in the minor leagues he was just so-so, with a 3-3 record and a 4.57 ERA in seven starts.

The major leagues have been a different story, though. Beginning June 3, Wood had a 1.99 ERA over seven starts; he came into Tuesday’s outing on a career-high tying four-game winning streak.

It came crashing to a halt, though, as the Marlins got to Wood for three runs in the fourth inning and five more in the fifth, with four of those coming on a Carlos Lee grand slam.

“You learn something from each start and basically I just have to get back at it and work hard these next four days and try to forget about it,” Wood said. “I have to (get) it back at St. Louis.”

Despite the stumble, the Cubs are convinced they have something in Wood, whom they traded for this winter, sending Sean Marshall to the Cincinnati Reds in the process.

All it took was a little adjustment to take Wood from bad to effective to very good in a five-month stretch.

“He’s using both sides of the plate now,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He never knew how to use his arm side of the plate.”

By “arm side,” Sveum is talking about the left-hander’s pitches to the outside part of the plate against right-handed hitters.

“Now he’s using his two-seamer and he’s back-dooring his cutter,” Sveum said. “He used to be basically one area with his hard stuff and that would be middle in to right-handed hitters. Now he’s learned to back door his cutter, throw the cutter out there to open up the whole inside of the plate.”

Wood had adapted to the new strategy so quickly that there had barely been any setbacks outside of a May 28 outing against the San Diego Padres when he gave up six runs on five hits. The Cubs ultimately rebounded to win that game 11-7 so no harm was done.

Since then, Wood had given up three runs twice, two runs once, one run two times and no runs in consecutive starts June 25 and July 1.

“His command out there, it didn’t take him very long to grasp it,” Sveum said. “He had never in his wildest dreams thought he could throw a back-door cutter and use that side of the plate and obviously it’s opened up a whole new world for him. You get a lot cheaper outs when you get hitters leaning out over the plate instead of having their eye sight in one spot all the time.”

Unless he stumbles again, this one could be chalked up to not pitching for 11 days as the team rested for the All-Star break and Wood was folded into the back of the rotation.

“I don’t like making excuses so I will say (that wasn’t it),” Wood said. “Every time you get the ball it’s your day to pitch and you have to ready to go and I always am. It was 11 days with the All-Star break and everything but I got my work in, I prepared and everything. It just wasn’t my night tonight.”