<
>

Randy Wells not yet in top form

The Chicago Cubs' starting rotation has been hit with numerous injuries, leaving the front office to scramble to look for healthy arms to toe the rubber in recent weeks. On Saturday, some good news finally arrived as injured starter Randy Wells returned to the rotation.

However, being healthy isn’t always enough. After throwing three solid innings, the Pittsburgh Pirates got to Wells in the fourth for four hits and five runs.

“I felt pretty good actually,” Wells said. “[But] I nibbled, maybe [I was] kind of timid to go out there and cut it loose and go after guys.”

Wells went on the disabled list April 8 with a right forearm strain shortly after a six inning, one-run outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Of course, the Cubs were hoping for a similar performance, but manager Mike Quade acknowledged that a pitcher can’t just come back from an injury like that and start dealing again.

Quade didn't think that Wells' return to the rotation was premature, acknowledging that results weren't of foremost concern in his mind.

"It's a health issue with [Wells] right now and he said he felt great. That was the main thing I wanted to hear from him," Quade said. "[I] would've loved to have seen him pitch a little better . . . but you build up arm strength and you get him back, 90 pitches and we'll see him in five days."

Wells walked the second batter of the game and immediately seemed to make a concerted effort to slow himself down.

“I felt like I was rushing, felt like I was jumping at the plate. [I just tried] to slow the breathing down," Wells said. “I’m not gonna say that I wasn’t excited and anxious to get back out there. I think the emotions were running pretty high and I just tried to calm myself down.”

On the other side of things, Pirates’ lefty Paul Maholm couldn’t work fast enough -- he stymied the Cubs, throwing a complete game shutout, while allowing three hits on only 91 pitches. Maholm shut down a Cubs offense that has feasted on southpaws this season. Entering the day the Cubs led the majors with a .315 batting average against lefties.

Complicating matters for the Cubs was the fact that Jeff Baker, who leads the majors with a .525 (21-for-40) mark against lefties, was sidelined once again with a groin injury. Baker may not have made much of a difference -- Maholm seemed to have command of all his pitches. Darwin Barney confirmed as much.

“He’s the kind of guy you have to capitalize on early because he throws a lot of strikes,” Barney said. “His pitch count was so low because he’s in the zone and you’re trying to be aggressive early in the game.”

Quade agreed that Maholm had everything working, but he said the big inning for the Pirates didn’t help things much either.

“After the five run fourth [Maholm] went right after guys, there was no messing around,” Quade said. “Run support is a wonderful thing.”