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02/22/06 4:32 PM ET

Notes: Wood, Miller shed surgery effects

Second base crew watched closely; Wuertz preps for long run

MESA, Ariz. -- Both Kerry Wood and Wade Miller looked far removed from shoulder surgery on Wednesday.

"I think today, what I saw was that if I would've walked out there in the middle of their throwing and not known they both had had surgery, I don't know if I could've told that," Chicago Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said after the two pitchers' long-toss sessions. "That's a good sign. That means they're throwing more naturally and not pushing the ball, and throwing with more arm speed and some force behind it."

Wood had surgery in late August, Miller in late September, and both procedures involved their right shoulders. Triple-A Iowa pitching coach Alan Dunn, who was catching Wood, nearly missed getting his mitt on one fastball. The ball had some pop.

"It's been impressive where they are up to now," Rothschild said Wednesday. "It is a rehab, it's a shoulder and all those things, and they've thrown the ball with pretty much force behind it. It's not so much what they did today, but can they feel like they can do it again tomorrow? That's the basis we use to go forward."

Mark Prior also did his long-toss drills early as well as some towel drills off the mound. The towel drills are designed to get the pitchers back on the mound, acclimated to the slope and getting their balance. Prior is moving closer to a bullpen session.

"I think we'll do a pretty extensive throwing program Friday and see how he reacts on Saturday and go from there," Rothschild said of Prior, who is on a very structured program this spring in hopes of avoiding any injury. "There's a good chance he'll get on the mound Sunday. If he feels real good, we might venture that on Friday. We'll see."

Rothschild won't put a timetable on any of the pitchers, but takes it day by day. Wood is not far away from throwing off a mound.

"That'll be determined by how he comes in each day and the strength of which he can throw, and we'll keep moving toward it," Rothschild said.

Second to none: Todd Walker, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Neifi Perez are being watched as Cubs manager Dusty Baker tries to determine who will be his best option at second base.

"I'm looking forward to whoever is going to play the best consistently in all departments, offensively and defensively," Baker said. "That second base, teams I've been on you've got to turn that double play and run the bases. It's more than hitting, much more than hitting.

"I was spoiled by some of the guys I had in the past, like Robby Thompson and Jeff Kent," Baker said of his former San Francisco second basemen. "I know the importance of that infield defense. There's more balls on the ground than in the air. Consequently, you have to play 'D' on the field."

The Cubs turned 136 double plays last year, third fewest in the National League.

"Some of it has to do with the fact that we have a strikeout pitching staff," Baker said. "I always liked my teams at the top of the league in defense and double plays. Any time you can get two outs on one pitch, it's a lot less pitches for your pitchers. A lot of times, it gets you out of the inning out of trouble."

Because Perez can play short and Hairston can play the outfield, they will get at-bats and playing time other than at second base.

Walker has heard the criticism.

"I've been picked on on things I'm not ideal at, which are like these upper-range guys like [Florida's] Pokey Reese, but they have weaknesses, also," Walker said. "I wouldn't consider that a weakness. If I can make the routine plays and turn the routine double plays and make the plays I'm supposed to do, then that's what I'm concerned about.

"As long as I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, which is catch the balls I'm supposed to catch, then I'm happy," Walker said.

Strong arm tactics: Last season, in his first full year in the big leagues, Cubs reliever Michael Wuertz appeared in 75 games, a professional career high. The right-handed reliever has totaled more innings -- he threw 171 1/3 innings in 2000 with Class A Daytona when he was a starter. But it's the games that count.

All those games can take their toll. Wuertz prepared differently this winter.

"This offseason, I actually started throwing a lot earlier than I have in years past just to get over the hump a little bit as far as having a dead arm," he said.

"I've always had a good start the last couple years in April and then hit a wall in May," Wuertz said. "Hopefully, I can hit the wall a little earlier and stay stronger throughout the whole season. We'll see how it goes. I think so far, it's been going pretty good."

The Cubs were careful how they used Wuertz last season, trying to avoid too many games in a row. Wuertz knows that.

"I think towards the end of the year, I was able to make that adjustment more," he said. "I think the biggest thing was knowing how much to throw in between, before a game and especially when you get up in the bullpen. If you get up one time in the bullpen, then sit down, just know your body. That's a big help, and talking to other guys about it, too."

He should benefit by the addition of veterans like Bob Howry and Scott Eyre.

"It's a good mix," Wuertz said of the bullpen. "They've been here, they know what they can do and they can help us."

There was that one inning in Houston in the last weekend of the season when he threw 15 straight sliders.

"Hopefully, we can work a few more fastballs in there," Wuertz said. "At the end of the year, I was able to locate my fastball better. That's what I've been working on in the side sessions. I've maybe thrown 10 sliders in the bullpen. I've been basically working on fastballs and being able to locate it and be aggressive. That's the one thing you'll see out of the whole bullpen this year is going after guys. You sit around and talk, and that's the mentality that it'll be."

Good student: Angel Guzman is just 24, has no Major League experience, and the pitcher's career has been stalled because of injuries. Henry Blanco is 34, and he has worked with some very talented pitchers. On Tuesday, the two were paired together for a bullpen session. So, Henry, can you give us a scouting report on young Angel?

"I know he was injured last year, and he looks good so far," Blanco said of Guzman, who was sidelined with a strained right forearm. "Hopefully, he can stay healthy and prove he's ready to pitch in the big leagues. I think all that matters is a little bit of time so he can show to them during the games that he can be one of the starters in camp."

When Guzman was finished with his session, he sought out Blanco for advice.

"He's been injured, and he's trying to see how his stuff looks and what he can do," Blanco said. "Obviously, he wants to learn, and he's looking for tips."

Blanco also has been around young pitchers who won't ask.

"That's true -- especially with some young guys now. They think they know everything," Blanco said. "It's not like that. You've got to ask. You've got to study."

Extra bases: Batters are scheduled to face live pitchers on Thursday. ... The Cubs expect to get word by the weekend on right-hander Jason Simontacchi. He's had some shoulder discomfort and was examined by Dr. James Andrews. ... The Cubs have yet to complete the deal with Texas for pitcher Jon Leicester. The player to be named will be determined by Opening Day. The player to be named from Boston for Jermaine Van Buren is Minor League outfielder Matthew Ciaramella, who hit .302 at Class A Greenville.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.