Wood, Prior circus goes on
Piniella seems tired of queries about likely DL-bound vets

By Paul Sullivan
Tribune staff reporter

March 19, 2007, 9:50 PM CDT

MESA, Ariz. -- With Kerry Wood expected to join Mark Prior on the disabled list to start the season, the Cubs' bullpen depth is questionable.

But manager Lou Piniella said he doesn't expect the team to go outside the organization to find another right-handed setup man to join Bob Howry in the seventh and eight innings.

"We've got everybody here in camp that we need to put a good pitching staff together," Piniella said. "I don't think that would even be a consideration. We've got [Angel] Guzman. We've got [Rocky] Cherry, who we like. No, we have plenty of pitching here."

General manager Jim Hendry told fans at the Cubs Convention the revamped bullpen was the best in the National League. But Wood's triceps injury, along with off-season acquisition Neal Cotts' ineffectiveness, puts more pressure on Howry, Scott Eyre and Will Ohman, all of whom may have been overused in '06.

Wood will throw a side session Tuesday, and if he feels OK on Wednesday, he could return to Cactus League action by Thursday. Even if he gets four more one-inning appearances, as is tentatively scheduled, Wood would only have seven innings of work the entire spring, about half of what's normally needed.

"I was hoping this spring we'd get back-to-back appearances from him, pitching maybe two innings, tops, just to see what his bounce-back period would be, and we'd get a feel for it," Piniella said. "We're running out of time as far as that's concerned."

Piniella then pointed out that the cold weather in April could make it more difficult for Wood to get loose.

"Those are a lot of questions to answer in a short period of time, bullpen-wise," Piniella said.

Piniella said he has answered more questions on Prior and Wood than on any other subject this spring. Does he sense the frustration of Cubs fans, hearing the same explanations about "building arm strength" for four straight springs?

"There's one difference this year," Piniella said. "We said that whatever we got from these two fine young men would be a bonus, and we've made different preparations. … It's not like it's the end of the world if they're not quite ready for the season."

Like Dusty Baker before him, Piniella appears to have tired of the subject.

"They played a big role here in the past, and obviously everybody's concerned," Piniella said. "I'm concerned also. But at the same time, regardless, they've got to be able to help you. In Wood's case, [relieving] is a new role for him. Giving him a little more time than necessary is not a bad idea, as opposed to rushing him."

Ditto Prior, who will start on Thursday. He has worked only three innings in Cactus League games.

"You need 25 or so innings," Piniella said. "In fairness to the person, is he going to be ready?"

Intense media interest in the two pitchers, which Wood called "the circus" when he refused to talk to reporters last week, has been unabated for four seasons. Veteran baseball writer Scott Miller of CBS SportsLine.com recently referred to Prior and Wood as the "Doomsday Twins," referring to their ability to doom the Cubs' chances of contending because of injuries.

Now the "circus" continues. When it all ends, no one really knows.