I started this spring behind schedule because of shoulder soreness, but I've felt great ever since I started pitching again. Mainly, I feel more in control of my game. I've been able to go out with full confidence that I can perform the way I want to.

I really felt like my body wore down in the latter half of last season and my stuff -- my command especially -- went downhill. That was due to shoulder soreness. So I went into the winter knowing I was going to be behind everyone else with my throwing program. I couldn't start until after the new year. Typically, pitchers start throwing in December.

I guess I was a little concerned about making it back to the rotation after the Cubs signed two free agent pitchers -- Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis. So there was added pressure to get healthy and get some innings in before Spring Training came to an end. I wasn't able to do that, which was disappointing at the time. But I took an extra month to get situated and I think it's helped out. I never got down. I just kept working. I knew when I got healthy I would be fine and be able to pitch at a high level. I never let my confidence waver.

I've felt good since returning to the Cubs' rotation out of Triple-A, but there's a lot of hard work left to be done and a lot of games that the Cubs still need to win to get to the playoffs.

Now that I'm healthy, I'd like to stay that way. I do more shoulder strengthening exercises to keep it from getting tired and broken down. Plus, I do all the normal exercises with an emphasis on my core and my legs. I have my days specifically planned for my cardio, core and legs, to keep myself in a routine.

It's my second year in the Majors and I only had a short stint in the Minors, so I'm still very much a student. Baseball provides a great learning environment, you can pick up things in the dugout and carry it over on the field. That's one of the things I learned last season from Greg Maddux, who always studies the game from the dugout.

This year, I find myself leaning on our other veteran pitchers, picking up things from their workouts, like new exercises, or from the way they study hitters, video and scouting reports. I'm constantly sucking in information and trying to retain it.

Sean Marshall, a 6-foot-7 left-hander who turns 25 on Aug. 30, is 5-5 with a 3.86 ERA through his first 13 starts this season after going 6-9 with a 5.59 ERA in 24 starts in 2006. He has 50 strikeouts and 23 walks over 72 1/3 innings.