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Sidelining Kerry Wood deals blow to Cubs’ bullpen

ST. LOUIS MO - APRIL 13: Reliever Kerry Wood #34 Chicago Cubs pitches against St. Louis Cardinals during home-opening game

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 13: Reliever Kerry Wood #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during the home-opening game at Busch Stadium on April 13, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cubs beat the Cardinals 9-5. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\142854518.jpg

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Updated: May 19, 2012 8:19AM



MIAMI — Apparently, the Cubs are still “easing” Kerry Wood into the season.

And all of a sudden, the big hope now is that his balky shoulder doesn’t land their setup ace on the disabled list.

After denying this spring that physical issues had anything to do with Wood’s strange pitching schedule last month, the Cubs sent him home to Chicago on Tuesday to have a cortisone shot in the shoulder for issues they now say date to the start of spring training.

Already thin in the bullpen, the Cubs plan to play short-handed in the pen until returning home Friday to open a series against the Cincinnati Reds.

If Wood isn’t ready by this weekend, general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged, then it could mean a 16th career trip to the disabled list for the popular right-hander.

Longer term, a potential area of weakness for the Cubs only looks weaker, even if Wood returns this weekend — and, presumably, requires even more handle-with-care instructions.

After trading out of the bullpen over the winter, the Cubs could continue ongoing efforts to replenish the pen all summer, Hoyer said over the weekend.

In Tuesday’s series-opening 5-2 loss to the Miami Marlins, the Cubs went to their only other late-inning setup guy, rookie Rafael Dolis, in the seventh inning of a 2-2 game.

After a double play helped get him out of the seventh, Dolis stayed in for the eighth. And after the leadoff man reached on an error in the eighth, he walked a batter, then gave up a three-run homer to Hanley Ramirez.

As for Wood, the team is characterizing the procedure as a “proactive’’ move to avoid a full-blown injury and says it is optimistic about this weekend.

Wood met behind closed doors with manager Dale Sveum before Friday’s game in St. Louis, then faced one batter that day, getting Rafael Furcal to ground out on the second pitch to end the eighth.

He hasn’t pitched since.

The team says the issue has been more a matter of Wood’s ability to “bounce back” from outings than any pain or discomfort when he’s pitching.

It’s been an issue, said Hoyer, “off and on really since the beginning of the spring.”

That contradicts the way team officials answered direct questions on the subject in late March when Wood went 10 days without pitching and finished with only five innings of work this spring.

Sveum and Wood specifically denied that physical problems led to the “ease him into the season” plan that was devised halfway through camp.

“I don’t have all the years and years of background with him like a lot of people do,” Hoyer said Tuesday, “but his arm’s always been something that’s been touch-and-go. And right now we’re trying to be proactive.

“We’re 10 games into a 162-game season and trying to be smart about it and trying to get him right. Hopefully, that’s soon.’’

Hoyer said the shoulder issue “wasn’t so much that he feels like he was hurt. It didn’t feel right. So we backed him off a little bit to try to let him gather some strength, and it seemed to work so far.’’

Even when Wood struggled the first two games of the season, Hoyer said he and the staff didn’t see signs of any kind of injury.

“I thought he looked healthy. He didn’t get outs,’’ Hoyer said. “But I think since that, he hasn’t felt quite as good.”



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