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Piniella names Wood as Cubs closer, Marquis as fifth starter

MESA, Ariz. -- As a starter, Kerry Wood once struck out 20 batters in a game. Now, he'll finish off opponents.

As expected, the Chicago Cubs made Wood their closer on Monday, and Jason Marquis got the nod as the fifth starter.

"I appreciate the fact that I've been given another chance to get out there and play the game I love," Wood said. "I'm going to take full advantage of it."

Converted to a reliever last season to preserve his troublesome right arm and shoulder, the oft-injured Wood entered spring training in a three-way competition for closer after the Cubs moved Ryan Dempster to the rotation. Manager Lou Piniella chose Wood over Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol because he values durability in his set-up men and believes closing will put less stress on the right-hander's arm.

It didn't hurt that his fastball has been clocked in the high 90s, either.

"He's thrown the ball exceedingly well all spring," Piniella said. "He's got experience, and he's earned it."

Wood worked out of the bullpen last year, going 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA in 22 appearances, but it never crossed his mind that he could wind up being the closer. It did when he was younger, though. And back then, Wood thought it might be fun.

"It's going to be something new, but that's exciting for me," Wood said. "I'm looking forward to it."

He has allowed just one run over his past nine appearances and shut down the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres on Saturday and Sunday. By pitching three times in four days and on back-to-back afternoons, he eased any concerns the Cubs might have had after he missed a game last week because of back spasms.

In 10 spring outings, he has a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings and has not walked a batter while striking out 10.

"Kerry has thrown the ball really well, I mean really well," said Piniella, who sees "no reason why" Wood couldn't pitch three days in a row.

General manager Jim Hendry added: "Nobody roots harder for Woody than I do. It's no secret how far we go back, and this is how you would have written the script up in the winter. The stuff the last couple of days is about as good as it gets. For his sake and ours, I hope he stays healthy because that's world-class stuff."

As for the rotation, Piniella had considered sending Dempster back to the bullpen. Instead, the right-hander remains in the third spot between lefties Ted Lilly and Rich Hill, with the final spot going to Marquis even though Jon Lieber has a 1.80 ERA this spring. Not that Marquis has pitched poorly, with a 2.95 ERA.

"Like I told [Lieber] a few days ago, when this is all said and done, we're going to need more than five starters -- believe me," Piniella said. "That's always been the case with every club."

Marquis angered Piniella early in camp when he said the team should trade him if he's not starting, comments the pitcher dismissed as "a little bump in the road, a little miscommunication."

"I've always considered myself a starter," Marquis said. "That's where I'm best suited. I worked my butt off physically, mentally, all year to do this."


As for other questions surrounding the Cubs batting order, shortstop Ryan Theriot will lead off while left fielder Alfonso Soriano will hit second. Felix Pie has won the starting job in center field and will bat eighth.

While there was some mystery surrounding the rotation, there was little doubt Wood would be the closer even though he was "a little surprised" when pitching coach Larry Rothschild told him the job was his. Now, he will try again to restart his once-promising career.

With that rocket arm, he seemed destined for greatness almost as soon as he made his debut in 1998.

He tied a major league record in his fifth start by striking out 20 in a game against Houston and went on to finish 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA and 233 strikeouts as the Cubs reached the playoffs. He became the club's fourth player and first pitcher to be named National League Rookie of the Year. But he also missed the final month of the regular season with a sprained ligament in his right elbow, the first in a long line of injuries.

He underwent elbow surgery in the offseason, missed the entire 1999 season and spent the first month of 2000 on the disabled list while rehabilitating. He was healthy the next three seasons and struck out a league-high 266 batters while winning 14 games in 2003.

That year, Mark Prior won 18 games and the Cubs came within five outs of their first pennant since 1945 before Florida rallied to win the NL Championship Series in seven games. It was a devastating loss for a franchise defined by the agony of defeat. Even so, with two standout starters, the future seemed promising.

Instead, agony defined Prior and Wood. And they became symbols of unfulfilled promise for the Cubs.

Prior had a long line of injuries and is with San Diego after the Cubs decided not to offer him a contract following last season. Wood was plagued with problems in his right shoulder and arm and spent time on the disabled list each of the past four seasons.

ESPN.com's Keith Law and The Associated Press contributed to this report.