Wood to make spring debut Saturday

MESA, Ariz. -- As All-Star pitcher Travis Wood makes his spring debut Saturday against the San Francisco Giants, he says he's as hungry as ever.

"I'm going into [the spring] like I'm fighting for a job," Wood said this week. "Stay sharp and hungry."

It wasn't long ago that Wood was fighting for a job. At this time last year, it was unknown if he was going to be part of the Cubs' young core moving forward. In his first year in Chicago, after being acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in 2011, Wood posted a 4.27 ERA and gave up 25 home runs. There were flashes of success in 2012, but it wasn't until last season that everything came together.

"We challenged him last offseason," pitching coach Chris Bosio said. "He responded."

Wood's response was an All-Star appearance and an ERA that was mostly below 3.00 until late in the season. Unlike 2012, teams rarely hit him hard as he ranked sixth in batting average against in the National League. Opponents hit just .222 off Wood, which might have been his most impressive statistic.

"Like I said all last year, just using all sides of the plate and having the confidence to throw what I needed," Wood said.

"Confidence" is a word that comes up often with Wood. It can be a fragile thing for baseball players, but once they realize they can play the game and have success in the major leagues, there's no telling what that confidence can do.

"This game is a lot about it," Wood said. "If you believe in yourself and know you can do it, things can kind of fall into place. It's also easy to lose it. You fall into a slump or have a few rough innings, you have to find a way to get that confidence back."

It's one thing Bosio and Wood have worked on since teaming up in 2012: Maintaining that confidence through tough times. Wood says they've been on the "same page" since day one.

"He's not arrogant," Bosio said. "He's not cocky, but he means business when he gets out there. We like to dictate the tempo, and Woody does that."

Much of what Bosio wants out of Wood this year is more of the same. "Stay the course" as Bosio puts it. After all, why mess with success?

"Taking the same approach because you can never been satisfied in this game," Wood said. "I want to fine-tune everything."

The Cubs haven't had many success stories over the past few years, but Wood is one of them. With the uncertainty surrounding teammate Jeff Samardzija's future with the team, the Cubs need someone they can count on for their youth movement. There aren't many of those guys on the mound right now. Wood qualifies as he turned just 27 earlier this month and is Cubs property for two more seasons after this one before he can become a free agent. He also got an approximate $3.3 million raise from last season and could be in line for a long-term deal soon.

"Not much talks on that end, so we'll just go through this year and give it everything we have," Wood said.

Besides being its best pitcher right now, Wood might be one of the team's best athletes, as well. He's the best-hitting pitcher -- he hit three home runs last season -- and he's always full-speed on the base paths. His previous manager had to dissuade him from sliding at second on double-play balls. But it's what he does on the mound that will help determine if the Cubs can actually be contenders soon. They need him to be great.

"'You have to be hungry and you do have something to prove,'" Bosio said he has told Wood. "'Let's validate what you did last year and prove you are one of the better lefties in the league.'

"Now he's had a taste of success. Now it's time to take it to another level."