<
>

There's no stopping Wood

CHICAGO -- With one start to go before the All-Star break, Chicago Cubs pitcher Travis Wood has already entered rarified air. On Tuesday night he became the first Cubs pitcher since Greg Maddux in 1988 to throw 17 quality starts (6 IP, 3 or fewer runs) in the first half of the season.

This time he shut down the Los Angeles Angels powerful lineup.

Wood was unaware of the company he joined in throwing No. 17.

“Now that you said it, it’s pretty exciting,” he said after the 7-2 victory.

His manager went a little further.

“You can’t pitch any better baseball,” Dale Sveum said. “Besides throwing shutouts you can’t pitch any better.”

It’s hard to argue with Sveum. Wood earned his sixth win by mowing down the Angels over the first six innings. He froze all-world outfielder Mike Trout on a first inning called third strike then fooled him with an off-speed pitch to get him swinging in the fourth. Wood faced the minimum batters through five while his only blemish was a seventh-inning home run to Albert Pujols.

But it’s not just what Wood is doing on the mound that’s impressing his teammates. Sveum believes Wood tired in the 7th because he ran the bases so hard in the bottom of the sixth, especially on a hot and humid night.

“He didn’t need to sprint to first base on a routine ground ball,” Sveum laughed.

“I can’t help it,” Wood said. “I don’t have it in me. You hit it, you run hard. I’ve been hearing it ever since. That’s just how I play the game.”

Sveum’s tried to change him -- to no avail.

“His mentality doesn’t allow him to trot to first base like that,” he said. “You can talk till you’re blue in the face you can’t get the baseball out of him.”

And his teammates see that as well.

“I kind of gave him a hard time,” Darwin Barney said. “Told him ‘Way to show the young guys how to play the game right.’ That’s Travis for you. He has his cleats on when he’s not pitching so he can pinch run. It’s just the way he plays the game. It’s hard to tell someone not to do that.”

And that’s why it will be hard for Wood not to pitch in next week’s All-Star Game. He’ll start the first-half finale on Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals and then be eligible to pitch only one inning -- per MLB rules -- on Tuesday. That’s if all parties agree to it.

“That’s something me and Dale are going to have to talk about,” Wood said. “It is a side day so I would be available but we’ll talk and see what the organization wants me doing, what they want me to do. The ultimate goal is the season with the Cubs. We’ll talk it out with them.”

If history is any indication Sveum won’t be able to talk Wood out of anything and it’ll be full go for the All-Star Game.

He’s earned it.