Wells heads back to Iowa as Dempster, Wood activated

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Wells heads back to Iowa as Dempster, Wood activated

CINCINNATI Randy Wells packed his bag for Des Moines on Thursday morning. Even if he sensed a demotion to Triple-A Iowa was coming, it didnt make it any easier.

Im not happy, Wells said. I didnt pitch well, so theres nobody really to blame but yourself. It still sucks. You obviously want to pitch well and put yourself in a good position, but the numbers just dont stack up. It is what it is.

The Cubs made a series of roster moves before Thursdays game against the Cincinnati Reds. Wells again lost the numbers game when Ryan Dempster came off the disabled list, becoming the sixth starter in a five-man rotation.

The Cubs also activated Kerry Wood and optioned left-hander Scott Maine to Iowa. They didnt seem interested in moving Wells whos making 2.705 million this year to the bullpen.

Hes got a future, manager Dale Sveum said. We cant sit here and promise anything. Right now, thats the role he has as a swingman coming up when we need starts.

So the Cubs will have insurance in case another starter goes down. Their bullpen remains a work in progress.

The coaching staff will have to be careful with Wood, whose right shoulder has been bothering him periodically since the beginning of spring training, and isnt ready for back-to-back games yet.

Well monitor him, Sveum said. It will be every other day and when you get him up, you get him in the game. Early on here, well probably use him in less-stressful situations. Its a sixth-, seventh-inning thing right now.

The Cubs will continue to carry Lendy Castillo, a Rule 5 pick who hasnt pitched in a game since April 20. Michael Bowden is out of options and can pitch multiple innings. James Russell is the only lefty in the bullpen.

Maine didnt do anything wrong he allowed one run in 5 23 innings and notched 10 strikeouts but still wound up losing another numbers game.

Its unclear whether the Cubs would have really changed their plans, but Wells didnt help his cause in two spot starts. The Cubs lost both games and combined Wells gave up six runs on nine hits and nine walks in 8.2 innings.

Wells who reported to spring training with a 27-30 career record and a 4.01 ERA in the majors has shown that he can be a decent piece at the back end of a rotation. Virtually every team could use more pitching. He was asked if he feels like he still fits in here.

I dont think its that at all, he said. I just think theres no room.

Wells didnt make any excuses, and isnt the type to make waves and demand a trade. He blamed himself.

Im not pitching well, he said, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Wake-up Call: Cubs surge into first place; White Sox continue slide

Wake-up Call: Cubs surge into first place; White Sox continue slide

Here are some of Sunday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for coaching staff

White Sox: The big-picture reasoning behind Rick Renteria and bunting

Jose Quintana reveling in first place vibes after 'overexcited' home Cubs debut

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

Go behind the scenes with Kendall Gill at The Big 3 in Chicago

33 Days to Kickoff: Westmont

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

This really is becoming Willson Contreras' team.

The dude is absolutely on fire right now and has almost singlehandedly lifted the Cubs back into first place.

Since the All-Star Break, Contreras has crushed four homers and three doubles while driving in 11 runs in just eight games. 

The Cubs have won seven of those games, including Sunday night when Contreras' two-run shot in the sixth inning turned out to be the game-winner that pushed the Cubs into a first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. (The Cubs also won the only game Contreras hasn't started since the Break.)

In the span of nine games, the Cubs have already erased the 5.5 game deficit they had in the National League Central entering the midseason break.

"He's just playing his butt off, literally, right now," Joe Maddon said. "Everything he's doing is pretty darn good. He plays with enthusiasm, also. You gotta feel that in the stands.

"There's some times he might get over-enthusiastic. I prefer toning people down as opposed to pumping them up all the time. He's doing everything. He's hitting fourth, he's catching, he's handling a really good pitching staff, he's throwing people out, he's blocking the ball really well and he's hitting homers, so God bless him."

Contreras' offense has been amazing, but Maddon credits the young catcher's block on a Wade Davis pitch in the dirt last week in Atlanta with helping to save the season. That play helped ensure a victory by not permitting the tying run to score from third base as the Cubs rattled off six straight wins to start the second half of 2017.

It's at the point now where Maddon cannot rationally find ways to get Contreras out of the lineup, even though the veteran manager is a huge proponent of rest and wants nothing more than to keep his players healthy and playing at a high level late in the season and into the playoffs.

Contreras is like the Energizer Bunny out there, hopping all around behind the plate to block balls, throwing guys out, pumping his chest, screaming obscenities at his first base coach after home runs. He even plays long toss (from the warning track in left-centerfield to about the spot the second baseman normally plays) before games with catching coach Mike Borzello.

The 25-year-old just does not turn down for anything when he's at the ballpark.

So does he ever get weary?

"I do get tired, but when I get home," he said. "When I'm here, I'm never tired. This is my job, this is what I love and you're gonna see me like that all throughout my career."

Contreras credits the Cubs coaching staff with helping him make the mental adjustments that has him in the conversation as one of the best catchers in baseball.

"He's growing up," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's really taking control behind the plate, which is nice. His at-bats just keep getting better and better and it's really fun to watch."

Contreras is on pace for 25 homers and 87 RBI, second only to Kansas City's Salvador Perez in both categories among catchers.

"He definitely has the abilities to be one of the elite catchers," Maddon said. "You gotta consider him one of the elite catchers in the National League already. Because he just does everything so well.

"The biggest next hurdle is just — without pulling him in too much — controlling his emotions a tad more without losing that enthusiasm that he has. Really understanding the game and calling the game and working his pitchers. 

"Mike Borzello does a great job with him. He started out this year and wasn't so good — missing his pitches, missing fastballs, fouling stuff off. But he stayed with it and now you see what he's capable of doing. He is really good right now and he's gonna get better."