MESA, Ariz. (AP) - Seven pitches, seven strikes. A fastball that hit 95 mph.
Kerry Wood had his best outing yet Thursday in his latest and most improbable attempt to come back from injury.
``That's probably the best stuff I've had as far as velocity, location. A couple of breaking balls I threw were really good, too,'' he said after his inning of work for the Chicago Cubs' entry in the Arizona Rookie League.
The 30-year-old right-hander is pitching an inning every other day this week. He has one more start on Saturday, then will fly to Chicago for his annual charity fundraising bowling tournament on Sunday.
During the visit, he will meet with Cubs officials to assess his next move, probably to a higher level of the minors to continue rehabilitation. Wood said he feels like he has turned the corner.
``I started throwing and waited to see what happened,'' Wood said. ``It kept feeling better and better. So here we are in games and I'll hopefully get a few more innings and be ready to go.''
Trainer Brett Fischer, who has worked with Wood for two years, said he would have bet his house a month ago that the pitcher would have to undergo surgery. In fact, Fischer said he had talked to the Cubs about the operation and asked for four more days of therapy.
Suddenly, the pain disappeared. Fischer said he has no idea why.
``I've been doing this 25 years and I've never seen a shoulder turn that fast,'' he said. ``To me it was a miracle. This guy's shoulder really turned around in four days.''
Wood was diagnosed a year ago with a partially torn rotator cuff. He chose not to have surgery. Instead, he attempted a comeback by rehabilitating the shoulder, strengthening the area around the tear.
The Cubs declined to pick up his $13.5 million option for 2007. Instead, they bought out his contract for $3 million, then re-signed him to a one-year, $1.75 million deal.
Wood, who had made just 25 appearances the last two seasons, was moved to the bullpen. He has lost 48 pounds, Fischer said, because of diet and exercise. But persistent and increasing soreness this spring sent him back to the disabled list.
He didn't throw at all for four weeks.
In the days leading up to the sudden improvement, Wood was throwing 45 mph with a lot of pain.
Still, he worked daily with Fischer, whose large stable of athletes includes Randy Johnson.
Then came the unexpected.
``I left on Friday and felt awful,'' Wood said. ``I came back on Monday and decided to throw a couple of more times and see what was going to happen. I went out and threw and felt great, came back and did it again Tuesday and felt better.''
It's been a constant improvement from there.
In his first rookie league outing last Saturday, he threw 14 pitches and struck out the side. In his second outing, he allowed a run and threw 12 pitches, but called it his best effort yet.
Then he topped that one with his brief stint on Thursday.
Wood credits Fischer's rehab program.
``It's the atmosphere that's there,'' Wood said, ``guys who have been through 10 times worse than what I've gone through and they're still in there battling. Andre Wadsworth has become a pretty decent friend of mine. He's had 14 knee surgeries or something like that and he's leaving here this weekend to go play for the Jets.''
Cubs manager Lou Piniella, though, is cautious in his assessment of Wood's chances to get back to the majors this year.
``He's not close to this situation here,'' Piniella said in Chicago. ``Let's hope he keeps improving and stays healthy. Let's not rush him and see where that takes us. He's a good young man, and it would be a really good feel-good story, but more important than that, it would be a story that could help our situation down the road.''
Once, Wood seemed destined to lead the long-suffering Cubs to success as one of the game's most dominant pitchers.
A month into his major league career, he struck out 20 in one game. At age 20, he was the second-youngest to accomplish the fete. Bob Feller did it at 17.
Wood was NL Rookie of the Year but the next season, he was on the operating table for ``Tommy John'' elbow surgery.
He returned to top 200 strikeouts for three years in a row and was the fastest, in game appearances, to fan 1,000 in big league history.
But he made three trips to the disabled list in 2005 before undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery. He spent nearly all the 2006 season rehabbing from that injury, then discovered that he had the partial tear in his rotator cuff.
He refuses to give up on the game. Why?
``Honestly, my son,'' Wood said. ``I've got an 18-month-old son and I want him to be around it, I want him to see what I did.''

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