ST. LOUIS — If you blinked you might have missed Friday’s sighting of the best success story the Cubs had to offer at the big-league level this year.
Sitting on 199 innings as he entered his final start and nothing else at stake, the Cubs told their All-Star pitcher a few days ago that he would be allowed to pitch only one inning in his final start.
A flurry of two-out hits tagged him with three earned runs and left him without the high-note finish he sought.
“Just makes you want to puke,” manager Dale Sveum said.
But even on a night the Cubs watched somebody win a clincher against them for the third time in less than a week, Wood left the field as the best development the Cubs feel they can count on heading into 2014.
He finishes among major-league leaders with 200 innings, a 3.11 ERA and 24 quality starts.
“You can always do more,” he said. “Always. The record wasn’t where I wanted it to be and the team’s record wasn’t where we wanted it to be. So regardless of who had good years and stuff, there’s always stuff to improve on.”
Wood joined Jeff Samardzija as the Cubs’ first pair of 200-inning pitchers since Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly during the 2008 playoff season.
“He improved last year and this year took even a bigger step,” Sveum said of the pitcher the Cubs acquired from Cincinnati two winters ago in the Sean Marshall trade. “Obviously, the wins and losses [9-12] aren’t there, but the quality starts and the earned run average is right there with the top starters in baseball. … He pitched as good as anybody in the game.”
Wood might be the poster boy for how the Cubs want their pitchers to follow highly detailed pitching plans – focused more on exploiting hitters’ weaknesses than necessarily the pitcher’s strength.
“I’m sure he’ll say the same thing: When he got here he never thought about throwing a first-pitch breaking ball strike; he never thought about back-dooring his cutter,” Sveum said. “He never thought about pitching arm-side that much. He bought into it. He still buys into it, studies, wants to know exactly how you can get ahead of a guy, how you can put a guy away – sticks to it to a ‘T.’
“Most of those earned runs have been when he’s [gotten] away from that. … But when you stick to a game plan, your chances are pretty darn good if you have the ability to do it.”
“It’s looking good, hopefully,” Wood said. “Just keep riding it out. And put as much work as possible into the off-season and come in and try to do more next year.”