I'm sure you've had enough of talking about the Cubs' nonexistent offense, and when I say "nonexistent", it's almost gotten to an existential plane: the Cubs were wearing rally caps in the dugout in the second inning when Derrek Lee hit a 420-foot home run to give the Cubs their first lead since last Sunday. Looked like fun and you could, for a moment, be excused for thinking the team had loosened up, but instead the result was the same for the sixth game in a row, a 3-1 loss to the Padres.
This morning, instead of simply recapping another impotent offensive display, I'm going to sing the praises of Randy Wells. Wells was an afterthought; he was a 44th-round pick of the Mets in 2001 out of high school, but didn't sign with them and went back into the following year's draft. In 2002 the Cubs selected him in the 38th round as a catcher. After three years of not hitting (he never hit over .200), he was converted to pitching full-time in 2004. Despite putting up decent numbers and having good control, the Cubs organization thought so little of him that they left him unprotected in the December 2007 Rule 5 draft; he was selected by the Blue Jays and pitched a scoreless ninth inning in a 10-2 blowout of the Red Sox on April 5, 2008, before being returned to the Cubs organization 11 days later. He spent the rest of 2008 at Iowa, again putting up good but not eye-popping stats and being rewarded with a September callup. (This is also why you see an Iowa Cubs photo of him in the pitcher boxes here at BCB when he starts; his SB Nation profile page has a photo of him looking pensive in a Blue Jays cap -- I have asked for an update. Maybe now that he appears here to stay, we'll get one.)
The game that likely really got him on Lou's radar -- and like being in Lou's doghouse, when you are on Lou's preferred-pet list, you can stay there a long time as long as you produce -- was last September 18 vs. the Brewers, when he came on in relief of Jeff Samardzija (who had been victimized by bad defense, allowing four unearned runs) and kept the Brewers down by throwing 2.1 scoreless innings. That was the game that Geovany Soto tied with a two-out, ninth-inning, three-run homer and the Cubs won in 12.
So Wells came to spring training this year at least with a shot at making the 25-man roster; obviously, there were no slots available in the rotation as camp opened. He didn't throw that well this spring, posting a 7.71 ERA in nine appearances, so he went back to Iowa in their rotation and posted a 3-0 record with a 2.77 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, far better than Mitch Atkins (2-5, 8.44 so far this year), who had been Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008 and seemed the "sixth starter" option when camp began. When Carlos Zambrano went on the DL, Wells was called up, ostensibly to fill Z's two missed starts and then return to Des Moines.
But Wells messed up that strategy by having a decent first start and a better second one. Allowing a pair of runs in the fourth inning last night (after getting himself in trouble with a HBP), the scoreless streak he had posted from the start of his major league career ended at 20 innings. But he settled down and had a most impressive outing, allowing only five hits and one walk and three earned runs in seven innings. Most of the time, when a major league starter in the later years of the first decade of the 21st Century does that, his team will win. Not so, unfortunately, for the punchless Cubs.
You know who Wells reminds me of? Another righthander who wore #36 in the blue pinstripes, Kevin Tapani, who also didn't establish himself in the major leagues till age 26. Irony: Tapani was originally drafted in 1985 by the Cubs, didn't sign, was picked in '86 by the A's, and wound up traded twice (to the Mets and Twins) before arriving fulltime in the major leagues in 1990 and becoming a key contributor to the Twins' World Series team in 1991. Like Tapani, Wells throws strikes and doesn't mess around on the mound. He doesn't have terrific velocity but does seem to know how to mix up his pitches and keep hitters off balance. Tapani wasn't a great pitcher, but he won 143 games in a 13-year career and was a key part of three playoff teams (1991 Twins, 1995 Dodgers, 1998 Cubs).
If the Cubs can get a Tapani-like career out of Randy Wells, I think we'll all be well satisfied. Wells looks like a #3 or #4 starter, a guy who can give you quality innings and stay in the rotation without getting hurt. When Rich Harden is ready to return from the DL, maybe then the Cubs will cut the cord (or make a deal to keep and send down) David Patton, who has now gone two full weeks without pitching.
In the meantime, maybe the Cubs can swing the bats and score some runs this afternoon against Chris Young. The game preview will post at 1 pm CDT.