CHICAGO -- Travis Wood's quality first half was rewarded Saturday, when the Cubs' left-handed pitcher was named to his first All-Star Game.
Wood will be the Cubs' sole representative in the July 16 game at Citi Field, it was announced Saturday on the MLB All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell.
The 26-year-old has gone from battling for a spot in the rotation to ranking among the Major League leaders in quality starts with 16, and being among the tops in the National League in ERA and batting average against. He just doesn't have the wins to show for it, carrying a 5-6 record. In his past six starts, Wood is 0-3 with a 2.58 ERA.
"It's really remarkable when you think about where his command is now compared to 15 months ago -- it's night and day," said Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations. "He deserves a ton of credit."
Last year, shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman/outfielder Bryan LaHair were the Cubs' All-Star representatives. The last time a Cubs starting pitcher was named to the All-Star game was 2009, when lefty Ted Lilly was selected.
Wood was overlooked when acquired in December 2011 from the Reds in a trade that included Sean Marshall. He opened last season at Triple-A Iowa and didn't make the rotation until May. A solid spring this year left no doubt Wood belonged in the rotation and he backed that up in his first game, April 4 against the Pirates, when he gave up one hit over six shutout innings. He also threw seven scoreless innings against the Rockies on May 13, limiting them to two hits.
What's been the difference? Wood has improved his arm-side delivery and his secondary pitches to the point where he's not relying solely on his fastball, cutter and glove-side pitches.
"This guy pitches like he's 6-foot-6, 230 pounds out there," Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio said. "He's got a presence about him. He may be 5-9, 5-10, but he pitches a lot bigger than he is and that's because he has confidence. He's got confidence in the stuff that he has, and confidence in the scouting report that's laid out for him.
"Theo talks about the 'Cubs way,' and this is a really good example of what can happen to a young man, who was sent out in Spring Training, quite possibly could've been down in Double-A, but went down to Triple-A, and worked his tail off."
Wood was named to the NL team by Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
"He's been our All-Star, no question about it," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
Wood hasn't expressed frustration at his record, the result of some bullpen implosions, even though he has had reason to.
"He's dealt with his unfortunate occurrences as well as anybody," Sveum said. "He holds himself very accountable. One bad pitch, he ends up giving up two or three runs in a seven-inning game, and he holds himself accountable. The good thing about Travis is he's the same guy every day he shows up."
Sveum told the soft-spoken Arkansas native the news during a team meeting prior to the Cubs' 4-1 win against the Pirates.
"It was pretty special," Wood said. "I've been fortunate to have some good games and keep them close and pull some out, and others not. That's what we're going to try to take into the second half is get over the hump and get those wins -- anything I can do to pick us up."
Bosio challenged Wood in Spring Training, and again just four weeks ago, to "take the next step to be one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball."
When Wood joined the Cubs, he knew Marshall was the headliner in the deal.
"[The Cubs] did give up a lot -- Marshall is an outstanding pitcher and one of the best left-handed pitchers out of the bullpen in the game right now," Wood said. "For it to pay off like it has, hopefully it continues over the years to come."
Getting named to the All-Star Game is just another step in his development.
"He wants to be up there with the Cliff Lee's, the Clayton Kershaw's," Bosio said. "He may not have that 96-mph fastball or that devastating curveball, but when you look at it at the end of the day, seven innings, six innings, giving up one or two runs, always keeping your club in the game, the ability to swing the bat, get bunts down, he's worked hard on his game and he's evolved into that guy who's going to an All-Star Game now."
Dave Sappelt, who came with Wood in the trade, knows the lefty better than most and isn't surprised at how professional Wood has been this season.
"He's a great teammate," Sappelt said.
How great? Wood is a huge country music fan, but will change the pregame music on days he's pitching to accommodate his teammates.
From Saturday to Thursday, July 11, be sure to return to MLB.com and cast your 2013 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by freecreditscore.com for the final player for each League's All-Star roster.
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Wood is hoping some of the Cubs players who have been to the All-Star Game can give him some advice.
"Hopefully that comes," Wood said, "because right now, I'm clueless."
Maybe so, but right now, he's one of the top lefties in the game.
"He's got some moxie to him," Bosio said.
The All-Star Game will be played in a National League ballpark. Wood does have two home runs this season, including a grand slam off Jake Peavy on May 30. What if he got to pinch-hit?
"That would be something," Wood said, smiling.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.