5/24/2013 7:18 P.M. ET
Following game plan helping Wood improve
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Travis Wood was among the Cubs players taking early batting practice Friday at Great American Ball Park. The pitcher does like to hit, and he'll get his chance Saturday when he faces his former team, the Reds, for the second time this season.
"I think Travis looks forward to hitting anywhere," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of the left-hander, who is 5-for-19 this season with a double and home run. "He was out for early [batting practice], hitting home run after home run."
Wood appeared in 39 games over two seasons with the Reds in 2010 and '11, before he was traded to the Cubs on Dec. 23, 2011, for Sean Marshall in a four-player deal.
Last season, Wood was 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA in 26 starts with the Cubs. This season, he's 4-2 with a 2.24 ERA. What's the difference?
"He's not doing anything different than last year, except maybe fine-tuning some things," Sveum said. "He's able to pitch to his arm side, back door his cutter. He's always been able to pitch inside to right-handed hitters."
What may be helping Wood the most is he's following the game plan.
"He sits down with [coach Mike] Borzello and Borzello says, 'Don't ever throw this pitch,' and before, [Wood] might throw the pitch because we know how Travis is -- he's very competitive," Sveum said. "Before he could be, 'I can throw this changeup to this guy,' and that's the last pitch you ever want to throw to him."
So, has Wood matured?
"You get tired of getting beat up, too," Sveum said. "There's a time where something has to give."
Sveum puts impetus on vet Jackson to figure out issues
CINCINNATI -- The Phillies' Cole Hamels couldn't have projected a 1-7 record, nor could the Astros' Philip Humber think he'd go 0-8, or the Dodgers' Josh Beckett be 0-5. And Edwin Jackson never imagined he'd go 1-7 with a 6.11 ERA in his first 10 starts with the Cubs.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum wants to see Jackson throw with more conviction and be at maximum velocity and in full game mode from the first pitch. That seemed to be part of the problem on Thursday against the Pirates.
Jackson has said he's not pressing, even though he signed his first long-term deal during the offseason -- a four-year, $52-million contract.
"You've got a commitment there. You've got to stick with the commitment and coach them and teach," Sveum said of Jackson. "It's not like he's a kid. He's a veteran player. Sometimes you just have to do it yourself. People play in the big leagues a long time. Sometimes you just have to do the things to get better yourself."
It's up to Jackson to make the changes.
"We can coach and do a lot of things, but it still comes down to the individual making these adjustments to get over a hump and get through a slump," Sveum said.
There has been no talk about taking Jackson out of the rotation.
"It's a long season," Sveum said. "There's still another 20-plus starts there to fix this and get it going."
Is it puzzling?
"You could look at some other big-time starters in baseball -- the [Mark] Buehrles in the world -- there are some big boys out there struggling," Sveum said. "That's why, in the long run, at the end of the year, hopefully that media guide doesn't lie."
Buehrle, by the way, is 1-3 with a 5.90 ERA in 10 starts.
• Alfonso Soriano did not start Friday, getting a breather in the Cubs' first game of a three-game series against the Reds. Manager Dale Sveum said Soriano, 37, will definitely be in the lineup for next week's Interleague series against the White Sox, which starts Monday.
Soriano is one option as the designated hitter, and Sveum said he's also considering Dioner Navarro and Welington Castillo.
The Cubs are expected to face lefties Jose Quintana and Chris Sale in the first two games against the White Sox. Sveum has hinted that he'll tweak the lineup he's used so far against southpaw starters and include some of the left-handed hitters. Any tips?
"I don't know," Sveum said. "Wait and see."
Starlin Castro, who appeared to injure his right ankle sliding into second base on Thursday, was in the lineup on Friday. The shortstop now has appeared in 243 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the National League and second longest in baseball. Prince Fielder has appeared in 389 games in a row.
"I'm good to go," Castro said.
• Chris Rusin threw six shutout innings, striking out four and scattering six hits, in Triple-A Iowa's 4-0 win over Las Vegas on Thursday.
• Outfielder Albert Almora was 4-for-7 with two doubles and scored a run in his second game with Class A Kane County, a 9-8, 14-inning loss to Peoria. Almora, who broke the hamate bone in his left hand in Spring Training, is now 7-for-11 in two games.
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.