For Cubs All-Star Travis Wood, it’s all coming together
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org July 14, 2013 12:16AM
Updated: August 15, 2013 7:06AM
He got his changeup from the coaching staff at Bryant High School, a pitch that was emphasized on coach Terry Harper’s teams. He got his cutter from Cy Young pitcher Cliff Lee, a workout partner in the offseason in Saline County, where both Arkansas natives still live.
But his often underestimated athletic ability and understated tenacity were all Travis Wood.
Harper got his first up-close look at it one day in his eighth-grade history class when the teacher and the kid ballplayer started smack talking each other.
“That little sucker,” Harper said. “He popped off something smart to me, playing around, and I grabbed him by the neck and put him in kind of a headlock. I swear it was like a raccoon jumping on a raccoon dog in the middle of a pond. He was on top of me in a second.”
But the Cubs and Wood are enjoying what looks to be the last laugh as the left-hander takes the mound Sunday against Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals, eight days after claiming his first All-Star selection — and 19 months after the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime made easily its best trade since taking over.
Wood, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the Sean Marshall trade, enters the nationally televised All-Star matchup leading the majors with 17 quality starts in 18 outings, the most by a Cub since Greg Maddux 25 years ago.
With almost half the season left, Wood (6-6, 2.69 ERA) said he doesn’t have a lot of time to spend thinking about accolades while he tries to prove this is the pitcher he is, not the inconsistent hurler he used to be.
“After [the game Sunday], I’ll probably really get to take in being able to go to the All-Star Game and everything, but it’s two days and then it’s back to work,” he said. “You’ve got to finish strong. It’s a long season, and your body’s got to hold up. And they really see what you’re made of that last month and a half.
“There’s still much to prove throughout the rest of the season.”
That’s nothing new for Wood, whose mid-90s velocity spoke for itself when he pitched for Harper but whose stature didn’t scream “impact” to scouts wary of overstating their projections for a 5-11 pitcher.
“I remember once, before the  draft with all the scouts around, I said to Travis, ‘Don’t take your spikes off until everybody leaves the ballpark,’ ’’ Harper said of the eventual second-round pick. “To make him look a little taller.”
One day, Harper asked Wood if he would put on weight. Turns out he was wearing two pairs of pants to make himself look more solidly built.
“If he’d have been 6-2, he’d have probably been in the first round that year,” Harper said.
The work with pitching coach Chris Bosio. The improved “arm-side command” manager Dale Sveum always talks about. The fearless approach and calm willingness to pitch inside.
The timing probably couldn’t be more ideal for it all to come together for Wood. He’s emerging just as the Cubs are aggressively seeking long-term solutions for their rotation, stirring conversations in the front office about possible multiyear-contract talks when he reaches arbitration eligibility next fall.
“Even [Jeff] Samardzija included, he’s probably as good an athlete as we have on our pitching staff,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Look how many times he fields balls up the middle. He can field a bunt. He can be a weapon hitting.
“There’s so many things about him that help you win games. Yeah, I think he’s certainly a long-term piece for us.”