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Wood should get Opening Day start

2/25/2014
Travis Wood, left, is a more deserving candidate to start on Opening Day than Jeff Samardzija. AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

MESA, Ariz. -- New Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria isn't revealing an Opening Day starter yet presumably because he hasn't made up his mind. After all, he has yet to see any of his pitchers on the mound other than as an opponent when he was a San Diego Padres coach.

"So many things can happen over the course of the spring, I'm not going to lock myself into trying to divulge something I can't really determine will be in the end," he said Monday.

So unless he's being coy, Renteria wants to see how everyone performs. Having said that, the choice can only be between two players: Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood.

Samardzija has already been tabbed to start the Cactus League opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday. He was also former manager Dale Sveum's choice for Opening Day last season, so that might be an indication which way Renteria is leaning. But taking anything that happens early in spring as gospel would be a mistake.

Besides, isn't Wood more deserving?

Wood was the Cubs' lone All-Star last season. His ERA (3.11) was more than a run better than Samardzija's (4.34) and Wood's batting average against hitters was .222, good for ninth in the National League. Samardzija's was .255. If statistics don't tell enough of the story, the eye test certainly does. Wood was in more command of more games than Samardzija last year.

"Obviously, he had a great year last year," Renteria said. "He deserves the attention he's getting. We'll see how it falls out closer to the end."

Opening Day starter is just for one game and has little long-term meaning, but it's always been a source of pride for any pitcher.

"I am excited," Samardzija said after being named Opening Day starter last spring. "The best thing as an athlete is to work hard and see positive gains from it. That (helps) you continue to work hard and keep improving. You get a little taste of success and you want to keep it going."

At the time, Sveum indicated that Samardzija's finish in 2012 played a big role in his decision to name him the Opening Day starter in 2013. Samardzija had a 2.99 ERA in his final eight starts of 2012. However, his ERA over the final two months last season was over 5.50 while Wood's ERA was 3.90.

Opening Day starter has only meaning in title, nothing more. Renteria recently said if there is an advantage to setting up the rotation one way over another for the regular season then that would be more important than any other considerations.

But since the beginning of baseball it's always been about one thing for that first game: The team's best starter takes the ball.

Right now, that's Travis Wood.