Wood giving Cubs solid lefty in bullpen

Wood giving Cubs solid lefty in bullpen

CHICAGO -- Travis Wood knew he might come into the game during the eighth inning of Saturday's 5-3 Cubs win against the D-backs. He just wasn't sure who he would face.

Luckily for Wood, he did his homework. When Cubs manager Joe Maddon brought in the left-handed Wood to force the D-backs to pinch-hit for lefty Jake Lamb with two outs and the bases loaded, Wood was ready. He had looked ahead and studied other hitters, including Rickie Weeks Jr.

In the game's most important at-bat, Weeks worked Wood for eight pitches before lining out to Ben Zobrist.

Wood didn't dominate Weeks, and he was fortunate Zobrist was perfectly positioned. But he did throw a huge 3-2 strike, and thanks to the out, he continued making progress in his adjustment to a full-time role in the bullpen.

"Weeks worked a great at-bat, but give Travis credit for throwing that strike," Maddon said.

Wood has been a starter for most of his seven-year career and bounced between the bullpen and rotation for the Cubs last year, finishing 5-4 with a 3.84 ERA.

This season, Wood moved to the bullpen to become a left-handed specialist. His start was rocky, with a 5.63 ERA through his first 14 appearances. But in 12 games since, Wood has allowed only one run and has a 0.71 ERA, including four innings of shutout relief Monday against the Dodgers.

With a 39-15 start entering Sunday's series finale, it's hard to find many weaknesses with the Cubs. Although left-handed relief might be one of the first areas that gets pointed to, Wood's big week is an encouraging sign.

"The ball's been coming out good," Wood said. "I've been fortunate enough to keep getting outs and haven't let anyone score. We just have to keep grinding and keep rolling."

Worth noting

• First baseman Anthony Rizzo was out of Sunday's starting lineup against the D-backs, meaning Kris Bryant started at first for only the second time this season.

"There were some times last year where [Rizzo] went through some tough moments, and a lot of that was based on fatigue," Maddon said. "I know he's 26, I know he's young, I get it. But we do play a tough schedule at home. … Resting people at home during day games, all that stuff I think is going to benefit us at the end of the season."

• The Cubs have an impressive early edge in voting for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game presented by MasterCard. Rizzo, Bryant, Addison Russell and Dexter Fowler all lead their positions, with other Cubs position players within striking distance. Add in pitchers such as Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel, who has started 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA, and the Cubs could have quite the posse.

"We can use some of our leaders in the clubhouse to pay for a private jet and we can all go together," Hammel said. "It would be nice. … It's a pretty cool personal accolade, but we just want to win."

Cody Stavenhagen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.