Cubs manager Lou Piniella named Kerry Wood the closer on Monday, over Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol. Piniella also announced that Ryan Dempster and Jason Marquis will fill the two open spots in the rotation, while Jon Lieber has been designated as the long man in the bullpen.
It's quite a career change for Wood, who is happy to just be able to pitch again, after undergoing surgery on his right elbow in 1999 and shoulder surgery in 2005.
"I appreciate the fact that I've been given another chance to get out there and play the game I love, and I want to take full advantage of it," Wood said.
Wood, 30, broke into the big leagues in 1998 with a 20-strikeout game in his fifth start. But arm problems have interrupted his career, and last season was his first full-time as a reliever. He didn't think about being a closer then.
"Last year, I was just happy to be back," Wood said. "Toward the end of the season, I felt much better than when I first came back. The more I threw, the better I felt and the more comfortable I felt coming in. I never really thought about it last year."
He did consider it when he first came up in pro baseball, saying he thought it'd be fun.
"I never thought it'd be a reality," Wood said. "I'm excited, I'm excited to have the job, and I'm looking forward to having a great season."
This spring, the right-hander has not walked a batter in 10 innings, and has looked dominating, hitting 98 mph regularly on the radar guns.
"I would've felt very comfortable with either Howry, Marmol or Wood in that situation," Piniella said. "We decided on Kerry Wood. He's thrown the ball exceedingly well all spring, he's got experience, and he's earned it."
"For me," Wood said, "it could've been anybody down there."
The only question regarding Wood was whether he was capable of handling the workload a closer has to deal with. He did pitch in both games of a doubleheader on Sept. 15 in St. Louis.
"There are more durability issues there up and down pitching in those seventh and eighth inning roles than the closer roles," Piniella said. "The closer comes in the ninth inning and very seldom in the eighth. With Bob and Carlos and [Michael] Wuertz and [Kevin] Hart, we've got some nice middle to late inning situations setting it up for Kerry."
Wood pitched back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday, and passed all tests.
"There's no reason why he can't pitch three days in a row," Piniella said of Wood. "We've got Marmol and we have Howry, who can slip right into that situation when Kerry needs a breather. We've got no problems."
Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Wood when he arrived at HoHoKam Park on Monday. The right-hander has talked to other closers about how to prepare physically.
"Talking to guys who have done it before, the mental preparation is probably more important than anything," said Wood, who has been teammates with some unique closers such as Rod Beck, LaTroy Hawkins, and Antonio Alfonseca.
"You see closers every series and obviously, I've tried to talk to some of the guys I've played with and played against," Wood said. "You just take a little bit from everybody. You see how everybody goes about doing their job, and how other closers go about getting their work done, and the mental preparation it takes."
He doesn't want any particular theme music for his entrance in games. Don't expect him to dye his hair purple or dance off the mound. That's not Wood's style.
"[Being the closer] is definitely something new, but it's exciting for me," Wood said. "The way I feel, I feel I can go out and be consistent doing it, so I'm looking forward to it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.