CHICAGO (AP) _ Kerry Wood, who missed all of last season after reconstructive elbow surgery, will return Tuesday night when he starts for the Chicago Cubs against the Houston Astros.

This will be the first start in 18 months for the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year.

``I've been waiting for the opportunity to write him down on my lineup card for a long time,'' Chicago Cubs manager Don Baylor said Sunday.

Wood had been on track to return last week, but he developed a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand in his last rehabilitation start.

Wood, 22, tied a major league record with 20 strikeouts on May 6, 1998, in just his fifth career start. The team? None other than the Houston Astros. He struck out 13 more in his next start, setting the majors record for back-to-back strikeouts in nine-inning games.

Wood finished his rookie season 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA despite missing the last month of the season with elbow problems. He had 233 strikeouts.

He blew out his elbow in his only spring training start last year, and had reconstructive surgery April 8, 1999.