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Cubs Star Pitcher Wood Out for Year

March 16, 1999

MESA, Ariz. (AP) _ Kerry Wood is expected to miss the entire 1999 season because of an elbow injury, leaving the Chicago Cubs without the pitcher who dazzled baseball last season.

The NL Rookie of the Year, who last May struck out 20 batters against Houston, damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during his spring training debut against Anaheim on Saturday.

The Cubs said today more tests were needed on the 21-year-old right-hander to determine the extent of the injury. However, they assume he will need surgery and will not be able to pitch again until next year.

``He’s a huge loss, no doubt about it,″ teammate Mark Grace said. ``It’s an opportunity for a guy like Scott Sanders or Terry Mulholland to step up.″

Wood was in Chicago for an MRI exam and those results were not expected until later today. But even before the MRI, the Cubs suspected the injury was season ending, sending a shudder through their clubhouse on a cold, rainy morning.

``I feel for him,″ reliever Rod Beck said. ``I think as a pitcher every one of us has laid in bed with an ache and a pain thinking it’s over.″

Wood became one of baseball’s top attractions last season and helped the Cubs win the NL wild-card spot. He missed all of September because of a sore elbow, but returned to pitch five innings in Game 3 of the playoffs against Atlanta.

``We’ll keep Sammy on the field _ put a glass case around him,″ Beck joked of star home run hitter Sammy Sosa, the Cubs leading draw.

Wood’s status has shaken a team trying to win its first pennant since 1945.

``Yesterday was a rough day,″ Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said before Monday’s 10-7 win over the Oakland Athletics. ``We just crossed some fingers and hoped the news was not going to be bad.″

After today’s bad news, Riggleman said: ``I think our players will take this as a challenge we will have to overcome, the same as Atlanta and Houston are doing,″ referring to season-ending injuries to Andres Galarraga and Moises Alou. ``He’s had some ups and downs from the time he signed that most young pitchers have gone through.″

Wood was hospitalized twice at the start of spring training for an upper respiratory and intestinal illness, then threw just 10 of 26 pitches for strikes Saturday against Anaheim. He wound up with elbow pain again that night.

Chicago had hoped the pain was from scar tissue, not ligament damage.

``He was real down yesterday, understandably so,″ Riggleman said Monday. ``He’s a young power pitcher, and I don’t know a young power pitcher who hasn’t gone through it.″

Even though he has less than a year of major league service, Cubs players already look to Wood as a leader. Grace compared him to Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown, calling him ``almost irreplaceable.″

``Kerry is one of those guys that can win even when he doesn’t have his good stuff because of his reputation,″ Grace said.

Steve Trachsel, Kevin Tapani, Mulholland and Jon Lieber are the other four starters in the Cubs’ rotation. If Wood is sidelined, Sanders or Kurt Miller are the most likely replacements.

``We just have to go out there and pick it up,″ Sammy Sosa said.

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