Wood (right shoulder bursitis) threw four innings of simulated work on Friday (March 25) and should be ready to make his first Cactus League appearance since March 9 when he faces Milwaukee on Tuesday (March 29). He also could be in line for a minor league start on April 3 and the home opener against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field on April 8.
Prior has made just one exhibition appearance on March 10 and developed elbow inflammation after that game.
He has been relegated to bullpen sessions and simulated games, and the Cubs are crossing their fingers he could make an appearance against Seattle on Saturday (April 2) in Las Vegas. He is being stretched out for a potential April 12 start against San Diego at Wrigley Field.
The bullpen also is unsettled. Closer candidate Joe Borowski fractured his right wrist on March 21, and LaTroy Hawkins (nine blown saves in 2004) will get the job. The Cubs also are looking for a second lefty to join Mike Remlinger. The Cubs are not convinced he can pitch in back-to-back games, so he needs a reliable backup.
If healthy, the pitching should be strong.
The offense lost 74 home runs and 186 RBIs with the departures of Sammy Sosa (trade to Baltimore) and Moises Alou (free agent to San Francisco) but a heart of the lineup featuring Nomar Garciaparra, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Jeromy Burnitz has some muscle.
PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: SS Nomar Garciaparra has battled injuries in recent years but is healthy now. A big season could mean a huge multiyear contract is in his future. In spring training, he hit .500 in his first 40 at-bats with six home runs. He is batting third and should have plenty of RBI opportunities.
ON THE DECLINE: RHP Greg Maddux's bottom line is winning, and the potential future Hall of Famer has won 15 or more games for a major league-best 17 straight seasons. But last year, he had a career-worst 4.02 ERA and surrendered a career-high 35 home runs. This is a guy who has a career 2.95 ERA and once had a season in which he gave up four home runs in 202 innings. Maddux, 38, isn't the same pitcher he was in the past, but he still wins games.
--RHP Mark Prior pitched a simulated game on Monday (March 28). If his inflamed right elbow holds up, he could be on pace to make his first Cactus League appearance since March 10 on Saturday (April 2) against Seattle in Las Vegas. The Cubs are hoping he can make his regular-season debut April 12 against San Diego.
--RHP Kerry Wood is scheduled to pitch in his first Cactus League games since March 9 when he faces Milwaukee on Tuesday (March 29). Wood, who is suffering from bursitis in his right shoulder, could pitch in a minor league game on Sunday (April 3) and then be ready for the Cubs' home opener on April 8 against the Brewers.
--RHP Ryan Dempster continued to struggle in Cactus League play. He gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings and his ERA is up to 11.19. Dempster is penciled in as the Cubs' third starter this year. Due to the questionable health of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, he may not lose his spot in the rotation because of the poor performances.
BY THE NUMBERS: .322 -- Lifetime batting average of Nomar Garciaparra, who opened the Cactus League season hitting .500 in his first 40 at-bats.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'll wear it until it feels cold. Some ice is colder than others." -- Veteran Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux after being asked how long he wears ice packs after games.
So what else is new? Injuries continue to be the hot topic of camp. Star starters Kerry Wood and Mark Prior missed significant Cactus League time, and closer hopeful Joe Borowski will be out for at least six weeks with a wrist injury. All three missed chunks of the 2004 season as well. The good news is that the position players have stayed healthy, and the offense will need to kick it in gear early while the staff mends.
1. RHP Carlos Zambrano
2. RHP Greg Maddux
3. RHP Ryan Dempster
4. RHP Kerry Wood
5. RHP Mark Prior
Dusty Baker's original rotation was Wood, Prior, Maddux, Zambrano and a competition for the fifth spot. But spring training injuries to Wood and Prior changed that. Prior (inflamed elbow) will be the "fifth" starter and because of an off day on April 7, the Cubs can use a four-man rotation the first time around. He can build up his strength for an April 13 debut.
RHP Joe Borowski's six-week wrist injury means Hawkins (25 saves, nine blown save opportunities) is back as the closer unless the Cubs make a trade late in camp. Fox has been a pleasant surprise but is coming off an elbow injury. He may get a few chances for saves but may not be ready for the full-time closer job. Due to the uncertainty of the starting staff, it appears the Cubs will break camp with seven relievers. Rusch could be counted on for both starting and relieving duties.
Gone are Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa (who combined for 74 homers and 186 RBIs last year) but a heart of the order featuring Garciaparra, Ramirez, Lee and Burnitz isn't exactly weak. Strikeouts will be a problem. Patterson led the team with 168 last year and is being asked to lead off because of his speed and ability to bunt his way on base. Lee and Burnitz are also capable of triple-figure strikeout totals.
Hairston, who came from Baltimore in the Sammy Sosa deal, had a nice spring but did not earn a starting spot. He will get plenty of time backing up 2B Tood Walker and at all three outfield positions. When he is in the starting lineup, look for him to bat leadoff. The Cubs brass loves Blanco's arm and even though he has a career batting average of .216, he hit 10 home runs in 315 at-bats backing up Joe Mauer in Minnesota last year.
ROOKIE WATCH: OF Jason Dubois hit a homer, triple and drove in four runs in the season finale against Atlanta in 2004 and had a huge winter in Mexico. RHP Angel Guzman is one of the top hurlers in the organization and picked up plenty of spring training innings because of injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. But he will open the season in the minors because he made just 11 appearances last year after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2003. He could be a mid-season call-up.
MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Joe Borowski suffered a fractured right wrist on March 21 and was projected to be out at least until May. RHP Kerry Wood has been fighting bursitis in his right shoulder and experienced some back tightness in spring training, but the Cubs are crossing their fingers he can start the season on time. RHP Mark Prior is suffering from inflammation of his right elbow and missed a chunk of the exhibition season, but the Cubs hope he can be ready for an April 12 start against San Diego. RHP Scott Williamson (Tommy John surgery in 2004) will not open the season with the club but the Cubs think there is a chance he could be on the hill in August or September.