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Cubs plan patience for Prior, Wood

Cubs plan patience for Prior, Wood

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs have enough pitching and don't plan on rushing Kerry Wood or Mark Prior to be ready by Opening Day, manager Lou Piniella said on Monday.

Wood, sidelined with a strained right triceps muscle, is expected to throw a side session on Tuesday, and if all goes well, he could pitch in a game on Thursday. Prior, still trying to get on track after spending the offseason strengthening his right shoulder, is scheduled to start for the Cubs on Thursday in Peoria, which would be his third Cactus League game.

It seems that Wood and Prior are the focus of the Cubs every year.

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"There's one difference this year," Piniella said. "The major difference is that we said whatever we got from these two fine young men is a bonus. We've made different preparations. We added [Jason] Marquis, we added [Ted] Lilly. In the bullpen, we have a nice supply of pitching, plus we have some young kids who are knocking on the door. It's not like it's the end of the world if they're not ready by the start of the season."

Neither Wood nor Prior has had enough innings this spring to be ready, and only two weeks remain before the start of the regular season. Wood has pitched in three games and gone one inning in each. Prior has totaled 3 1/3 innings in two games, and he also threw four innings in a Minor League intrasquad game.

The 30-year-old Wood, who is switching from the rotation to the bullpen, could make four more spring outings before the Cubs head to Cincinnati for their regular-season opener. Since this is a new role for Wood, the Cubs would prefer to ease him into it.

"That's not a lot [of innings]," Piniella said. "In fairness to the pitcher, give him 10, 12, 13, 14 innings of work, and back-to-back days, and maybe a two-inning stint at one time, and that's part of a bullpen regimen.

"We're running out of time, as far as that's concerned," Piniella said.

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Both pitchers could remain in Arizona when the team breaks camp. Prior has opened the season on the disabled list the last three years, while Wood began last year on the DL. The two have been one of the pregame topics Piniella has had to address nearly every day this spring.

"I know they played a big role here in the past, and obviously, everybody is concerned," Piniella said of the two right-handers. "I'm concerned also. At the same time, regardless, they've got to be able to help you. At the same time, in Wood's case, this is a new role for him. Giving him a little more time, if necessary, is not a bad idea, as opposed to rushing him. Let him build up a little more arm strength."

If all goes well, Prior, 26, will throw three to four innings on Thursday against the Padres, his first Cactus League action since March 10. Rich Hill, the fourth starter in the rotation, will follow Prior.

Because Prior hasn't had enough work, Wade Miller appears to be the leader for the fifth spot in the rotation. Angel Guzman, another candidate, seems headed to the bullpen as a long reliever. Starters Carlos Zambrano, Lilly, Marquis and Hill have all looked sharp. The Cubs can afford to give Wood and Prior more time.

"I think the object is to take the most prepared and best pitching staff we can to start the season," Piniella said. "In fairness to our ballclub and in fairness to the individuals, let's make sure they're ready as opposed to rushing them."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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