CHICAGO – Just two weeks ago, the Cubs had considered Travis Wood as a potential middle-of-the rotation arm that figured into the long-term plans.
After struggling for a third consecutive outing, though, the Cubs don’t know what to think.
Manager Dale Sveum stuck up for Wood after he was thumped by the Cardinals, saying that St. Louis’ ability to hit left-handers has to factor into the equation. The Cardinals entered play Saturday with a major-league leading .284 batting average against lefties and .467 slugging percentage, which is second best in baseball.
But clearly Wood isn’t as sharp as he was earlier in the month.
“I’m not real sure, it’s just that things didn't go as planned,” Wood said. “I missed some pitches and they didn't miss the pitches that I missed. They hit them out of the park.”
Wood has been all over the place this season. He was pretty much the worst performer in major-league camp this spring and earned himself an early ticket to Triple-A Iowa. He found his way to the big leagues in May and by June he was rolling.
In a four-start stretch from June 19 to July 6, Wood gave up just three combined runs and won all four of the outings.
Then came a July 17 start against the Marlins when he gave up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings, but that was widely believed to be a temporary setback. Consecutive outings against the Cardinals have proved otherwise, though, has he has given up a combined 14 runs in those starts.
“I think it’s more of the matchup than him struggling,” Sveum said. “That team against left-handed pitching is tough. They showed it again. It’s hard for him to go out there because he doesn’t throw curveballs and against that lineup it’s tough when you don’t have something soft against that right-handed lineup.”
The numbers show the dangers for a lefty against the Cardinals, but Wood appears to have lost the ability to keep balls down in the strike zone. Over his last three outings he has given up nine home runs. Over a seven-start stretch from June 3-July 6, he gave up a combined two home runs.
“Yeah, he does have to keep the ball down too but you’re going to get away with that a little more with other teams,” Sveum said. “This team, there’s a reason why those left-handed numbers are what they are with this team. You make a mistake they don’t miss it.”
Wood isn’t at the point of feeling demoralized like it appeared as if he was during spring training. He knows that success wasn’t that long ago and is confident that he can get right back at it.
“It's nice that I did that earlier in the season because after these past three because you can look back and be like, 'I know I can still do this,’” he said. “The confidence is still there. But at the end of the day it's what you did that day so we've just got to learn from this one and get ready for the next one.”
Wood might be happy to know that his next start is against the Pittsburgh Pirates. They are 15th in baseball with a .253 batting average against lefties and are 14th in slugging percentage at .417.
“I feel like I’m right there,” Wood said. “I faced these guys twice, in what five or six days, and Miami before that. I went on a roll and now I’m on the other side of it. The pitches are still there, the shapes are still good. I just have to keep working.”