Wood a mentor to young Cubs pitchers
Chicago setup man learned from Yanks' Rivera last season
MESA, Ariz. -- Kerry Wood isn't offering tips on his mechanics or talking to guys about how to throw a cutter. But the veteran is taking the time to mentor some of the young Cubs pitchers this spring.
Take Jeff Samardzija for example.
"He's a different style of pitcher and has a different arm angle," Wood said Saturday of the right-hander. "I'm not good enough seeing other guys and seeing what I can do to help them, that's not my gig. I think the mental approach to the game and how to attack hitters and what thought process you have out there, I know that. I can talk about matchups and what you want to do with hitters in situations."
Take John Gaub for example. The lefty had a rough outing Friday against the Royals, walking three and serving up a grand slam. Wood and Gaub talked in the visitors' clubhouse after the game.
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Wood, 33, learned a lot from his brief stint last year with the Yankees. He was traded by the Indians to New York on July 31. He had just come off the disabled list because of a blister and had a less-than-impressive 6.30 ERA in 23 games.
Now, he was in the bullpen with the Yankees and Mariano Rivera. That may have been the best thing to happen to Wood.
"We didn't talk about pitching," Wood said of his time with Rivera. "We didn't talk about pitching in that bullpen. It was such a professional atmosphere -- you just come in and get your work done. It's not that you don't have fun -- it was a great time. We never really talked about baseball. We were just having fun down there and the phone rings and you just get up and go."
Wood doesn't throw like Rivera, but he would like to think like the Yankees' closer does.
"I watched his routine and how he gets warmed up and how relaxed he is when the phone rings, whether it's a one-run game or we're tied," Wood said. "There's no panic, there's never any panic."
It didn't matter what the situation was for Rivera.
"I'm a guy who gets out there and gets adrenaline going and I've been a power pitcher my whole career, and I want to throw it harder and I can't get the ball out of my hand fast enough," Wood said. "Watching him get ready in Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox and it's a tie game, he's acting like it's a Spring Training game. It kicks in when you go on the field, but the preparation when you go in the game has to be the same as it is in Spring Training."
Pitching at HoHoKam Park is a lot different than pitching at Wrigley Field in front of a sellout crowd against the Cardinals, yet Wood said pitchers need to think spring.
"We all get on the mound in Spring Training, and there's no pressure," Wood said. "You work on your stuff. By the time the season starts, your stuff should be better and you should have a better feel for it. Watching [Rivera's] daily routine was more than enough for me."
And he's going to try to pass that on now that he's back with the Cubs for a second time. The only catch is Wrigley Field. It's hard not to get amped up because the bullpen is out in the open -- there is no place to hide as there is at Yankee Stadium.
"It's hard not to get that adrenaline -- that's the toughest thing when that phone rings, because we all think we're going into the game," Wood said.
He admits he was out of whack when he first joined the Yankees.
"I had a [6.30] ERA when I went to New York," he said. "My head was spinning. I hadn't thrown a pitch -- I'd just come off the [disabled list]. What am I doing here? I can go out there and feel like I'm not ready to do this and get booed off the field. I tried to keep it as simple as I could."
Being reunited with his former catcher and current Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, helped. Girardi eased Wood into situations where he felt he'd have success. Wood began pitching in the sixth or seventh innings, and eventually became the setup man. He posted a 0.69 ERA in 24 games with the Yankees.
"[Girardi] knew the situations he put me in were perfect situations for me," Wood said. "I don't think there was one time I went out there where I wasn't ready to be in this game. We were on the same page, and it worked out well."
Now, as one of the veterans, Wood watches the young pitchers struggle and can empathize.
"All these guys are trying to make the team, they're feeling it," he said. "I don't care how long you've been playing this game, if you're fighting for a job, it's on your mind. [Some of the pitchers] have the luxury of being able to go out and work on stuff. If I'm fighting for a job, I don't throw a 3-2 heater down the middle. I'm throwing something I hope he swings and misses at."
Which is why Wood can understand Carlos Silva's eruption in the dugout last Wednesday after a bad first inning. The Cubs had made three errors that inning, and Silva had given up a pair of two-run homers against the Brewers. Silva doesn't have a spot in the rotation guaranteed.
"You never want to see it come to that, but from our standpoint, you get it," Wood said. "He's battling for a job, you get an error, another error and boom, you get a ground ball to get out of it and it's catcher's interference and what's going to happen now? As a pitcher, you don't want to see that stuff happen to you.
"We've all been there," Wood said. "That's what separates guys."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.