Cubs

Travis Wood ready for whatever in move to Cubs bullpen

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Travis Wood ready for whatever in move to Cubs bullpen

Prior to Saturday, it had been four years since Travis Wood last appeared as a relief pitcher.

But the 28-year-old lefty will have to get used to pitching out of the bullpen now with the Cubs.

Wood was officially demoted to the bullpen Saturday and made his first appearance in his new role, picking up a save while giving a badly depleted bullpen a rest. It was the first save of his 11-year professional career.

"That was cool," Wood said Sunday. "To be able to come in and just give (Hector) Rondon the day off and go 1-2-3 and get the save was special."

Wood said manager Joe Maddon, pitching coach Chris Bosio and bullpen coach Lester Strode sat down with him before Saturday's game to let him know they might need him in relief against the Pirates that day but also that Wood would be in the bullpen for the near future.

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Wood is rather quiet and mostly keeps to himself but is known as a solid teammate and a good guy in the clubhouse, so his response was standard:

"On a personal level, maybe it is a little (disappointing), but as long as I'm here and can help the team win," he said. "We're playing great baseball right now, and everything I can do, regardless of what it is, I'll do it."

Wood admitted working as a reliever will take some getting used to after making 96 starts with the Cubs over the last three-plus seasons. He's used to throwing 100 pitches an outing and said that will be the biggest adjustment in this role change.

"(Not much changes) from a mental aspect," he said. "I'm still going out there and trying to get hitters out. The routine part will be a little different for me. I'll have to figure that out. I'm sure it won't be a problem."

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The Cubs believe Wood can find success in the bullpen, and he hopes he can iron some things out and get back to his 2013 All-Star level.

"I know we were pressed to do what we did (Saturday), but I have a lot of faith in this guy coming out of the 'pen," Maddon said. "He's had some really good games this year and some really good moments in other ones. Just to go out there and be aggressive and just let it go for an inning or two.

"If he does that, I think he'll be really good. I'm eager to see that. I think there's something there."

Maddon left the door open for Wood to return to the rotation again down the line if the situation presents itself.

The Cubs announced Sunday evening Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada will come off the disabled list and take Wood's spot in the rotation, beginning with Wednesday night's start in San Diego. Wada, 34, was 4-4 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 13 starts for the Cubs at the end of 2014.

Maddon loves to get creative with guys like Wood, who is athletic, runs the bases well and typically swings a good bat. Wood hit six homers in 2012 and 2013 and has nine for his career to go along with eight doubles, one triple and 30 RBIs.

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With the move to the bullpen, Wood's pinch-hitting and pinch-running appearances will be limited to those days he's unavailable to pitch. Though, that, too, might be a good thing as Wood admitted his at-bats "aren't what they used to be" and that he needs to iron his offense out as well.

Wood was laughing and joking around with the media Sunday, outwardly showing no ill effects from the demotion to the bullpen.

His attitude on the matter can be summed up perfectly in his response asking if he was bummed the baseball from his first career save was accidentally thrown into the stands and can't be kept as a memento:

"It's just a ball," Wood said. "I can grab any dirty ball and write on it."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

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USA TODAY

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

The Cubs continued their recent struggles, suffering their third straight loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

But the game was not without its fair share of drama. The matchup was a back-and-forth affair, up until the Reds blew the game wide-open in the bottom of the third inning. This included a grand slam by Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, the first home run of his career.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to the bullpen following Cincinnati's third inning explosion, and things did not get much better from there.

With the Cubs down six runs in the bottom of the eight inning, Maddon brought in catcher Chris Gimenez to pitch. 

This was not new territory for Gimenez, who despite being a catcher, now has 10 MLB pitching appearances to his name. 

Down six runs, Gimenez didn't have a lot to lose. But Reds first basemen Joey Votto hammered a fastball in the zone for his eighth homer of the year.

Gimenez had a career ERA of 8.00 before Saturday's appearance, and he certainly didn't do much to help lower that figure.

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers: "Including one today, Cubs relievers have allowed 41.1 percent of inherited runners to score in June, sixth most in the NL." 

A tired bullpen is certainly cause for concern for the Cubs, who are locked into a battle in the NL Central with the Brewers and Cardinals. Maddon was surely hoping to keep his bullpen arms fresh with the move, seeing as the game was already out of reach. 

So yes, the game did end in a 11-2 win for the Reds. But with a grand-slam by a pitcher—on his first career HR no less—and four-seam fastballs from a catcher, Cubs baseball always keep things interesting.