CHICAGO -- Even Chicago Cubs pitcher Travis Wood was stunned when he heard what manager Dale Sveum said about him after Wood threw another gem in helping to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 2-1, on Tuesday night.
"He's the best starter in baseball pretty much," Sveum said bluntly.
That might be overstating the case, but with a 2.33 ERA for the season and 6⅔ innings of one-run ball Tuesday, Sveum might not be too far off the mark. After all, opponents are hitting just .179 against him, good for fourth-lowest in the National League. Needless to say, Wood's confidence is going in the right direction after picking up his third win of the season.
"It's as high as it can be right now," Wood said. "Got to stay humble though."
Wood is transforming himself into a consistent starter, and at 26 years old there is no reason not to believe he's entering the Cubs' long-range plans. There won't be any flipping him for prospects, unless the front office somehow doesn't believe in what they're seeing.
"He's got it, he's figured it out," Sveum said. "He can do just about anything he wants with a ball right now."
Catcher Welington Castillo added: "He's way different than last year. Up and away. Down and in, down and away. He's been great."
His movement and placement of pitches kept the Cardinals off-balance all night. According to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information, St. Louis was 0-for-10 with six strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch outside the strike zone. More than half of his cutters (24 of 41) were outside the zone and he was particularly effective throwing inside to the Cardinals, who were 0-for-12 on at-bats that ended with pitches on the inner third.
"Being able to throw the four-seamer inside and then cut it off that," Wood explained. "That way they couldn't sit there and try to dive on anything away."
Wood has yet to go less than six innings this season, and on Tuesday Sveum let him throw 114 pitches, knowing he would have an extra day off between starts.
"I'm hoping I can stay with it as long as possible," Wood said.
And what about that bold statement from Sveum? That Wood is perhaps the best pitcher in the game right now? When informed of those comments, Wood was at a loss for words.
"That would ... It's a strong statement but you know..." he said.
Yeah, we're starting to know.