Commentary

Early exit embarrassing

Cubs starter Wells allows five runs, leaves without recording an out

Updated: May 28, 2010, 9:44 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- The idea of a Carlos Zambrano-free rotation being too good to break up is sounding as prudent as a bank being too big to fail. Or, as it turns out, Carlos Silva being too big to win.

After Randy Wells gave up five runs on six straight hits in the first inning before getting pulled, he's looking like just as good a candidate as left-hander Tom Gorzelanny to go into the bullpen for a spell. Silva pitches Saturday, so the natural question is: When will his perfect record be marred? Maybe by the third inning.

[+] EnlargeRandy Wells
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastCubs starting pitcher Randy Wells reacts after being taken out of the game without recording an out.

The Chicago Cubs lost 7-1 on Friday to start their first series of the year against the hated St. Louis Cardinals, and it was over before it began. Wells threw 16 pitches but couldn't get an out, making him the first Cubs starter to get pulled like that since the late Geremi Gonzalez on April 2, 1998.

"Like baseball guys used to say, I just got ambushed today," Wells said. "Six straight hits and I only threw 15 pitches, I think. There's not a whole lot to say. I'm pretty embarrassed. I had a lot of family and friends watching. It's not the way you want to start a series against a team like St. Louis."

Wells' day went like this: single to left-center, double to left, single up the middle, single past second base, single past second base, double to right. It was uglier than, well, a White Sox game.

"He only threw 16 pitches, but boy, they used the whole field," manager Lou Piniella said.

Piniella said this outing shouldn't affect his decision on whom to demote to the bullpen (if no trades are consummated) when Zambrano returns to the rotation next week (barring any stomach ailments, like the one that sent him to the hospital Thursday). Zambrano pitched one inning of relief Friday.

"I don't think it'll have any bearing at all," Piniella said quietly.

Wells is 0-3 with a 6.48 ERA in five May starts, after finishing April 3-0 with a 3.45 ERA. Gorzelanny has a 4.55 ERA this month and has given up 34 hits and 13 walks in 29 2/3 innings, giving him a 1.58 WHIP. He was 0-3 in April with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP.

Maybe Gorzelanny goes to the bullpen too, taking fellow lefty ex-Pirate John Grabow's job. Grabow gave up a two-run homer in the ninth and has allowed four walks and five earned runs in his last 3 1/3 innings. Young Andrew Cashner could always eschew his bullpen conversion in Triple-A to start in Chicago.

Many figure Cashner will be up at some point soon. Certainly the play of fellow rookies Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin augur well for the farm system's success rate this year. Colvin hit his fifth homer of the year, a pinch-hit shot to right in the fifth inning. Piniella said Colvin is forcing himself into the lineup. He had an RBI double after coming in as a defensive replacement in the Cubs' 1-0 win over the Dodgers on Thursday.

"This kid here is telling me, 'Look, put my name in the lineup a few more times,'" Piniella said.

To a man the Cubs will say this series is as important as any other. For a team struggling to get back to .500, that's a smart tack. But Cubs-Cardinals has significant meaning, because the Cubs are chasing St. Louis and Cincinnati.

The Cubs had beaten St. Louis in the season series four straight times until last season. St. Louis has won the first game of the series four consecutive times. The Cardinals have had their share of problems this year, just like the Cubs, but are now 28-21 and five games ahead of Chicago in the division.

Saturday's game is being nationally broadcast on Fox, but for many Chicagoans, its importance on the sporting scene is easily overshadowed.

As the spotlight moves to the Chicago Blackhawks, who host the first game of the Stanley Cup finals Saturday night, the Cubs could use a winning streak to drum up interest and fill the 2,000 or so empty seats. The Cubs are drawing well by anybody's standards, except perhaps their own. They averaged 34,815 for a weekday series against Los Angeles. That's a W for the White Sox and a tough L for the Cubs.

Friday's game, played in near-perfect conditions at the start of a holiday weekend, drew an announced crowd of 39,536, which was 1,800 shy of the season-high 41,336 which came May 15. (Wrigley Field's official capacity is 41,210.) The Cubs were seventh in baseball in average attendance at 38,103, nothing to sneeze at with Chicago's fluky spring weather. Last year they finished sixth at 39,610.

Of course, attendance among their peers isn't the issue. The Cubs can never lead the majors because Wrigley Field is too small. But in 2008, they filled 99 percent of the seats. Last year, the number was 96.3. This year, and it's early, that number is at 92.7. Increased prices surely don't help, but an unexciting, uneven baseball team is the real culprit. April is a cruel month for attendance, but it's something to keep your eye on through July.

These weekend games should be easy sellouts, as will the team's next home series against the White Sox next weekend. In attendance were some important people, like chairman Tom Ricketts, who sat in his front-row seat to catch this snoozer. At least he got some sun.

His sister Laura was spotted in the parking lot with her newborn baby girl Audrey, who got an early, but historically accurate, start on life as a Cubs fan. The whole family is expected over the weekend.

So you've got the Cubs' biggest rival and the ownership group in town for a Memorial Day weekend tilt, think it would be an apt time to get on a roll?

"We're trying to get on a roll every day," Piniella said before the game. "It has nothing to do with the Cardinals. It has nothing to do with the weekend. It has to do with we want to win as many baseball games as we can. Hopefully we can continue to play good baseball. That's all we can do, give our best and hope things go our way."

Things didn't go the Cubs' way Friday and it wasn't all Wells' fault. Kosuke Fukudome got thrown out trying to take third in the first inning after Derrek Lee struck out.

"We're trying to stay out of the double play and we run into one," Piniella said.

The Cubs had two on in the third but Aramis Ramirez, who had missed four straight games with a thumb injury, grounded into a double play. Ramirez doubled in the sixth but Marlon Byrd had a tough lineout to end the inning.

In the eighth, Ryan Theriot and Lee were on with no outs and Jason Motte got Ramirez to fly out to left, struck out Alfonso Soriano swinging and Byrd looking.

Wells' news conference lasted almost as long as his start, but he summed it up perfectly.

"It's just one of them days," Wells said. "You've just got to wear it."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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