CHICAGO (AP) -Kerry Wood's long path back to the majors will reach Wrigley Field this week when he's activated by the Chicago Cubs, probably on Friday.
``I got back in the big leagues. The work hasn't even begun,'' Wood said Wednesday, the day after his final minor league rehab stint in which he pitched 1 2-3 hitless innings for Double-A Tennessee.
``I have hopefully two-plus months of hard work left and hopefully I'm prepared for it.''
Eight rehab outings at different levels and a bullpen session in Cincinnati with pitching coach Larry Rothschild revealed that Wood can pitch effectively and without the pain in his shoulder that has bothered him since the 2005 season. The next time he pitches for the Cubs, it will be his first major league assignment since June 6, 2006.
A year ago Wood made only four starts. This spring his comeback was sidelined by more discomfort and there was a time during his rehab that it appeared another surgery was inevitable. But then remarkably, and inexplicably, the pain subsided.
Now the Cubs have sort of a new relief pitcher - one who will work in the middle innings - who can throw in the mid 90s.
``Keeping him healthy is what we have to concern ourselves with,'' manager Lou Piniella said, adding that the Cubs are happy with Wood's velocity, spin on his pitches and release.
``We won't overuse him. He'll help our bullpen out. ... We'll limit his pitches initially and probably pitch him an inning as opposed to an inning-plus. And as we build some stamina and see how he's feeling and see how he's bouncing back, we can change how we use him a little bit. But we're not going to use him long. To me two innings would be long.''
In 1998 as a rookie, Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros in his fifth major league start, vaulting him into national prominence with his tons of promise.
After a long run of injuries and seemingly endless stints of rehab sessions, Wood always hoped to get back to the only team he's ever pitched for and make a contribution. Now at age 30, he has that chance again.
``This is what I do. I play baseball. I was taken away from it for a while,'' he said.
Asked if he felt like patting himself on the back for not giving up, Wood said: ``I think when the season's over I can do that. But I'm not going to do that right now. I'm not going to be thinking of it that way. I felt like I should have been here all season. I'm going to go out and do the best I can for the last couple months.''
Wood has long been a fan favorite at Wrigley Field and with the Cubs chasing first place in the NL Central, his return will make it more manic than ever.
``They've supported me through the whole thing. A lot of times fans don't stick with a guy that long,'' Wood said. ``I appreciate it.''
Piniella can't wait to use Wood or watch him get back on the mound.
``He's a battler and worked hard to get where he's at right now,'' Piniella said. ``I think it will be electric here when he steps on the mound. I look forward to seeing that myself.''

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