Wells is locking up his spot in Cubs rotation

Wells is locking up his spot in Cubs rotation

Sunday, March 20, 2011
Posted: 8:23 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The new Randy Wells did not give an acceptance speech. He was not dressed in a tuxedo, thanking all the people that helped him get here. But at this point you have to declare him a winner in this competition.

Its almost impossible to see Wells not being in the Cubs rotation come April. And that remained true even before he dominated the San Francisco Giants in Sundays 3-2 win.

In front of 13,465 fans a record for HoHoKam Park Wells gave up two hits to start the game and then retired the final 18 batters he faced. He gave up one run across six innings and didnt even reach his pitch limit.

Not bad for someone who recently joked about going to Triple-A Iowa, saying it could be worse, that he was glad to just have a job.

Its not up to me, Wells said. Until the decisions made, I cant really say anything. Ive been goofing around and making stupid comments. (But) its just because I dont know what to say. I think Ive done enough.

Publicly, the Cubs arent going to go so far as to anoint Wells as their fourth starter just yet. The front office and the coaching staff will meet this week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday, to make some decisions.

But the 28-year-old right-hander now has a 1.35 ERA through his first five games, a 20-inning stretch. Manager Mike Quade called it an unbelievable spring, and it comes at a time when the Cubs seem to be looking for an exit strategy with Carlos Silva.

As Quade said, I cant tell you anything other than I have been super-impressed with Mr. Wells.

Wells has rolled his eyes at all the sophomore jinx talk. Hes sick and tired of talking about last year, when he let outside influences affect him, and people unfairly started to question his work habits and how much he enjoys the nightlife.

Unfortunate things were said, and stuff I couldnt control (got) to me, Wells said. Im really working hard on not giving a (expletive) what people think.

That goes for the way Wells has pitched he didnt let Sundays start mushroom into a big first inning and the way he has carried himself, with a quiet confidence.

Hes matured quite a bit, catcher Geovany Soto said. His pitching and his mechanics hes taking this stuff a little bit more seriously and it shows. Whenever he pitches, hes got a quick tempo. You can see in his eyes that he knows what he needs to do.

The Cubs would love to see the Wells from last April (3-0, 3.45), July (2-2, 1.83) and September (2-2, 3.15) who looked like a No. 3 starter.

Wells cant forget what he did last May (0-3, 5.40), June (0-3, 6.14) and August (1-4, 5.91). But he thinks hes better for the experience and takes great pride in being able to make 32 starts and contribute almost 200 innings.

Sometimes you start talking about (Wells) like hes a 10-year guy, Quade said. Not only am I excited to see what hes doing now, but there are still plenty of possibilities for this guy down the road because, to me, hes still very young after converting from catcher.

His ceiling could be a lot higher than any of us might think.

Wells looks at it exactly the same way. For him, this is all a confidence game.

You just got to be confident in your ability, Wells said. As long as you believe what youve done is right and youve done the work and prepared yourself to go out there and pitch, (thats all that matters).

When people get defensive or when people take offense to whats said or worry about whats said, its probably because theyre guilty. For me, I know that I took care of what I (needed to).

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."