Wood continues his quality start to season

CINCINNATI -- In the midst of another heartbreaking loss for the Chicago Cubs, 5-4 in 13 innings to the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, there is good news. In fact, it's more important than the outcome of the game.

Travis Wood threw another quality start, defined as a start of six innings or more with three or fewer runs allowed. And Wood has turned in four straight to start the season after giving up two runs over 6 1/3 innings on Monday.

In short, Wood has been every bit as good as Carlos Villanueva and Jeff Samardzija to start the season.

"I was very pleased with the way I pitched today," Wood said. "For me to keep them at one run for six-plus innings, it felt good."

His performance to start the season is reminiscent of last June and early July when he put together five quality starts in a row. But after that run he didn't have more than two in a row the rest of the season. Wood believes he can keep it up this time around, and experience is helping.

"I feel like it," Wood said. "The ball is coming out well both sides of the plate. Hopefully I can stay right there for the whole year."

That's been his key and he's mentioned it often: using the entire plate. According to ESPN Hot Zones, he's been doing that more this season than last. Essentially his pitches were more juicy to hit last season. Wood has been much better at working the corners this season. It's the reason he's given up only six extra-base hits and one home run, on Monday to Jay Bruce.

"Woody was great again," manager Dale Sveum said. "He got some really good right-handers out."

And here's another notion that bodes well for Wood's maturity: He's getting better as the game goes on. According to baseballreference.com, opponents are hitting .080 against him on pitches 51-75 with an on-base percentage of .179. And his sparkling .191 batting average against ranks 10th in all of baseball. His 2.08 ERA is 21st. The Cubs are building for the future and a 26-year-old left-hander can be invaluable if he keeps it up.

"I just want to keep doing what I'm doing," Wood said.

Marmol showing progress:

Slowly but surely former closer Carlos Marmol is working his way back into Sveum's good graces. He pitched two more scoreless innings on Monday and has now totaled seven straight appearances without giving up a run.

With the game on the line in the 10th inning, Sveum chose to leave Marmol in to face dangerous left-handed hitter Joey Votto. The winning run was on third base and first base was open with a right-hander coming up. But Marmol struck him out. History played a part in the decision.

"Votto struggles against him worse than any other pitcher I'm sure," Sveum said. "Votto is 1-for-15 now with nine strikeouts."

Marmol was pumped after whiffing one of the best hitters in baseball with the winning run on third.

"That was a key at-bat," he said. "I threw my slider and my fastball."

It's still not always clear where his fastball or slider is going, but now he's using it to his advantage, pitching effectively wild at times. He walked one batter unintentionally and another intentionally before getting Votto.

"I feel good now," Marmol said. "Hopefully I stay that way."