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Strong start step in right direction for Cubs’ Randy Wells

Updated: October 29, 2011 12:36AM



Whether or not right-hander Randy Wells realized he might be pitching for a role in the Cubs’ rebuilding process, if not his next turn in the rotation, he responded with his best start of the season Saturday to beat the Houston Astros 5-1.

And whether it’s the Astros or the St. Louis Cardinals next time around, he might be facing an extended audition in the final two months of the season.

‘‘I have to do what I can do to keep getting better and keep contributing,’’ said Wells (2-3), who pitched six sharp innings to earn his first victory since his first start of the season April 4. ‘‘I can’t worry about all the other stuff that’s going on behind the scenes. I’m just happy with the performance today, and I’ll try to build off it.’’

The Cubs’ front office has been in a next-year mind-set for weeks, and evaluations — especially of the starting pitching — are ongoing with the non-waiver trade deadline a week away. Even with Wells’ strong outing, the Cubs’ rotation ranks last in the majors with a 5.14 ERA.

If Wells — who hinted his early-season forearm injury has hampered him even after being activated from the disabled list — can keep up the performance level he showed against the Astros, he could go a long way toward giving the Cubs hope of becoming at least reasonably competitive again by next season, assuming they add pitching depth.

‘‘It was the sharpest we’ve seen him since that St. Louis game
[June 4],’’ said manager Mike Quade, who indicated earlier in the week he needed to see a strong performance from Wells against the Astros before setting his rotation next time through. ‘‘I don’t know if it was a challenge. I think players have an understanding of what’s going on, and he just needed to pitch well and pitch better than he [had].

‘‘Whatever motivates guys, it’s different for everybody. This was a big step, to me, for him. If he can build on that, that’ll be fantastic.’’

After winning his season debut, Wells missed nearly two months with the forearm injury. Catcher Geovany Soto suggested Saturday that it might have taken awhile for Wells to get his rhythm and feel back.

‘‘I’m getting better every day,’’ said Wells, who struck out four and got nine of his other 14 outs on ground balls. ‘‘It’s just been a process to feel confident .  .  . when your thought process is right but your arm’s not right. Today, everything was working pretty good.’’

Triple threat

The Cubs’ first back-to-back victories since last month have them poised to go after their first three-game winning streak of the season today. They have failed nine other times to win three consecutive games.

‘‘It’s about that time,’’ Quade said.

And then some. The Cubs have gone this deep into a season without a three-game winning streak only one other time in 136 years as a major-league franchise. That was 1966, when they played 105 games before starting one.

‘‘That’d be great, but I don’t think anybody’s really thinking of that as our immediate goal,’’ Wells said. ‘‘It’s kind of a weird stat that we haven’t done it yet, but we’ve got a great chance [today] with [Matt] Garza. .  .  . I think this is our best shot so far.’’

Notes

The Cubs played an error-free game for the second consecutive day after committing at least one error in nine games in a row.

◆ Left-hander James Russell got the final out of the seventh to extend his scoreless streak to
131/3 innings.



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