Wood gets day off with 'a little cranky' arm

CHICAGO -- Mike Quade’s use of the bullpen has been criticized often this season.

On Sunday, the Chicago Cubs manager quickly got ahead of the second-guessers before a question was even asked about why he didn’t go to Kerry Wood in a critical situation in the eighth inning of the Cubs’ 5-4 win over the Houston Astros.

“I probably got (Wood) up and down (in the bullpen) four times in the last two days,” Quade said. “He wants to come out and pitch well and feel like he’s good to go and can help the team win. I think as the day started, he didn’t feel that confident in how he felt arm-wise. We’re all getting older, so… ”

Quade also added that Wood’s arm was feeling ‘a little cranky.’ However, when Wood was asked about the issue, he seemed unaware of any problem.

“Newsflash, sometimes guys need a day here and there,” Wood said. “Nothing new.”

When it was pointed out to Wood that he hadn’t been used in a game situation since Wednesday, Wood reminded reporters that he had pitched a lot in the pen and that he would only need Sunday as a day off. Wood also reiterated that there were no issues with his finger -- he went on the disabled list earlier in the season with blister issues -- or any other part of his body. Cubs PR staff told reporters that pitching coach Mark Riggins said there was no concern of Wood not being available on Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Instead of Wood, Jeff Samardzija came out to start the eighth inning, working for the third day in a row. The fact that Wood hadn’t pitched in so long, combined with Quade’s earlier comment that he wanted to try and get Wood some in-game work, made the move seem a little strange.

The questions only mounted when Samardzija started the inning by walking Hunter Pence and giving up a home run to Carlos Lee on a first-pitch fastball.

“Samardzija’s been good, three days in a row is tough,” Quade said. “But really, we thought that was the best option at that point.”

Samardzija gave credit to Lee for doing his job and giving the Astros a temporary lead, but he also said he needed to make a better pitch in that situation. Samardzija pointed to Pence’s walk as the real mistake, saying he has to force Pence to put the ball in play with a power hitter like Lee on deck.

To Samardzija’s credit, he’d been great recently up until his rough outing on Sunday. In his previous five appearances he’d pitched six innings, giving up no earned runs, while striking out five batters, and walking none. Not only has Samardzija’s fastball consistently been hitting 98 with movement, but it looks as though he’s finally gotten control of his second pitch, a slider that he’s been working to harness since the Cubs drafted him in 2006.

“I feel great, I’ve been working in some great situation in these games,” Samardzija said. “I feel like Q’s got some confidence in me, which is great.”

If Sunday’s outing is just a hiccup and his more recent performances are an indicator of things to come, Samardzija could be headed for a brighter future. Samardzija will likely never be the dominant starter that many had hoped, but being a great setup man and solidifying the already strong Cubs bullpen would be a solid consolation prize.