MESA, Ariz. — When Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he was keeping his Opening Day-starter options open, it amounted to a shout-out to Travis Wood.
Barring injuries, Wood, the Cubs’ All-Star last year, would be the only credible alternative to Jeff Samardzija, who started the 2013 opener and has been the presumptive 2014 starter in conversations with team officials all winter.
“It would be awesome,” Wood said. “Everybody wants to be an Opening Day starter. I’d be happy with it. And if Jeff got it, it’d be the same. He’d deserve to have it. He’s a great pitcher.”
As the only left-hander in the rotation, Wood might not be the best fit for the opener anyway, regardless of how the other factors look to Renteria as the spring schedule plays out.
Much bigger to Wood is backing up his breakout season in 2013, when he had a 3.11 ERA, threw 200 innings and picked up nine wins despite the worst run support in the majors.
Only five pitchers in the majors had more than his 24 quality starts.
“Last year was a really important season for me, and I was fortunate enough to have a good one,” he said, “but I’ve got to come out and prove it again. Every year you’ve got something to prove.”
A front office that has been aggressive in trying to lock up young core players to long-term contracts wasn’t ready to make that offer to Wood even though he reached arbitration eligibility after last season.
But there’s no I’ll-show-you aspect to his motivation, he said.
“It’s just to prove to myself and to everybody else that it wasn’t a fluke,” he said.
And what about the potential drama surrounding the decision on that Opening Day start? Whatever.
Samardzija and Wood are camp buddies this spring, one rarely seen without the other, the Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly of the current clubhouse generation.
“It’d be cool,” Samardzija said of back-to-back openers. “But, most importantly, you want to just be hitting the season full stride and in full health. . . .
“We’re probably going to be pitching back-to-back every series. Regardless of who’s pitching, we like our chances with us two on the mound. So we’re looking forward to having each other’s back no matter what the situation is.”