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Piniella picks Wood to be team's new closer
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Kerry Wood has been chosen to be the new Cubs closer to open the 2008 season, with Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol in setup roles.

 

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Published: 3/24/2008 1:06 PM | Updated: 3/25/2008 12:04 AM

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MESA, Ariz. -- There was no real drama Monday as far as the Cubs' closing situation went.

Kerry Wood won the job over the weekend, and Monday's announcement was a mere formality.

What will have Cubs fans talking from now until Opening Day and beyond is the starting rotation.

Manager Lou Piniella named Ryan Dempster his No. 3 starter and Jason Marquis No. 5, as they join Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill.

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The odd man out is Jon Lieber, who has the best ERA and fewest walks allowed among the three "finalists" for the last two spots.

Lieber will go to the bullpen, and he took the news well, knowing he will no doubt crack the rotation at some point.

"I completely understand the situation," said Lieber, who is 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA and 3 walks in 18 innings. "I've said it from Day One. Those guys have earned it just as much.

"I think it's a great situation that we're in. My hat's off to them. It was awesome for all of us to be going through that. I was really impressed by the work ethic Jason and Ryan were doing this spring. They've worked their tails off."

Before Monday's 7-6 victory over the Texas Rangers, Piniella announced that Wood had beaten out Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry to win the closer's job. Wood's back-to-back outings over the weekend clinched it.

With the starting rotation, Piniella deferred to Dempster working to get himself into shape after being the team's closer since 2005 and to Marquis' standing as a member of the rotation last year.

"Dempster has worked hard, and he's thrown the ball well here," Piniella said. "We told him we'd give him every opportunity to start this spring, and we did just that. (His) mind-set was to gain a spot in the rotation. He worked really, really hard, and he threw the ball well all spring.

"Marquis has pitched well, also. Yesterday, he gave up 3 runs in the first inning and settled down and got stronger as the game progressed. We've got ourselves a really nice pitching staff here, bullpen wise and starting-pitching wise."

Dempster started Monday and worked 4¿ innings, giving up 8 hits and 4 runs while walking three and striking out five.

"I'm excited," said Dempster, who came up as a starter with Florida in 1998. "I worked really hard this winter, and I'm glad I've been given the opportunity to come back and get a shot at starting, and I'm glad I made their decision easy for them by going out there and being in good shape and having a healthy arm and pitching well."

Dempster is 2-1 with a 5.23 ERA and 11 walks in 20¿ innings. Walks have been Dempster's biggest bugaboo throughout his career, and Piniella said he'd like to see Dempster work more effectively after he puts runners on.

Marquis is 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA with 6 walks in 18½ innings. He has had a history of fast starts and late fades. He was 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA last April and 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in May. In September, however, he was 2-1 with a 6.21 ERA.

"I worked my butt off all year, all off-season to prepare to come into the season as a starter," he said. "I went out there and obviously proved to them that I still belonged and can help this team get to where it needs to be."

As far as the closer situation goes, Wood won out with 10 strikeouts and no walks in 10 innings.

"It was nice," Wood said of getting the news. "Obviously, I'm honored they picked me for the job, and I'm excited about it and looking forward to getting started."

Piniella's opening-day lineup

1. Ryan Theriot, SS

2. Alfonso Soriano, LF

3. Derrek Lee, 1B

4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B

5. Kosuke Fukudome, RF

6. Mark DeRosa, 2B

7. Geovany Soto, C

8. Felix Pie, CF

9. Carlos Zambrano, P