Vintage Wood reminds he's a keeper

CHICAGO -- Forget about Jeff Samardzija for a moment. If the Chicago Cubs don’t lock up starter Travis Wood to a long-term deal sometime soon, their rebuilding plans will really take a hit.

At 27, Wood is younger by two years and certainly won’t be looking for the same kind of a mega-deal Samardzija wants. Plus, he’s proving to be every bit the pitcher that his teammate is -- and right now he might be one of the Cubs' better hitters. Wood homered and doubled, driving in four runs in Chicago's 5-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night.

Oh, and he threw seven innings of one-run ball while striking out a career-high nine. His ERA is 2.52 in the opening month.

“He’s another guy that’s Steady Eddy,” manager Rick Renteria said afterward. “He goes out there and does his thing. He gets better every year."

That he does. Wood was an All-Star last season, and he’s picking up right where he left off. Monday he did it with his fastball, striking out seven of his nine victims with that pitch.

“You don’t have to get funny,” Renteria said. “It was well located.”

But just as a season ago, Wood impressed as much with his bat and athleticism as with his arm. Since last May, he has a solo home run, a two-run shot, a three-run homer and a grand slam, according to ESPN Stats & Information. After Monday’s first two hits, he came up with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, prompting Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson to make a pitching change. How often does that happen with the opposing hurler at the plate?

“I guess it feels good that they kind of respect you up there and you’re doing your job,” Wood said. “I’m just not in the 9-hole to fill a spot. You have to try and be as best you can at it.”

He grounded into a double play after admittedly swinging for the fences. Wood is more than adequate at the plate, as his seven career home runs attest. Add it all up and he’s become a keeper in the Cubs' rotation. They need as much pitching as they can get, especially if Samardzija is on the move. Renteria was asked if he would like to be able to pencil Wood into the rotation for the next five years.

“I think everyone would,” he responded.

Wood is one year behind Samardzija in terms of arbitration -- he has two more years after this one before he becomes a free agent --- so there’s no real hurry, but the Cubs have shown a propensity to lock players up, as long as the players give a hometown discount to the team.

Unlike Samardzija, Wood might be willing to do that, considering he hasn’t made nearly as much in his career to date.

After winning his first game of the season almost single-handedly, it might be a good idea to start discussing options with the left-hander. And maybe think of batting him higher in the lineup until reinforcements come.

“He’s really coming into his own,” Renteria said.

Wood has become a keeper. That much we know.