Wells Relishes Dark-horse Role

As a non-roster invitee in 2006, Randy Wells stepped into big league spring training with the Chicago Cubs and felt like a babe in the woods.

Three years later, this is no longer Wells' first rodeo with the big boys.

The 2009 season will mark Wells' eighth overall with the Cubs. His journey started in 2002 when Chicago drafted him as a catcher from Southwestern Illinois College in the 38th-round.

Since then, the right-hander has made the long-ago switch to pitcher and gone on to stare down established big league hitters such as Boston's David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and Philadelphia's Ryan Howard—an eclectic mix of MVP's and post-season studs alike.

From Low Class-A ball in Lansing, Michigan, in 2004, to being picked up by Toronto in the 2007 Rule 5 Draft and pitching against the aforementioned sluggers before being returned to Chicago after just two regular-season appearances the following season, it has taken Wells awhile to get noticed.

Now he feels like one of the regular guys in Cubs camp.

"It's definitely different," the 26-year-old Cubs pitcher said from Mesa, Ariz. "You feel like you have better relationships with the guys, with the coaching staff and your surroundings in general. It's nice to go in there every day and be able to know that your focus is on playing baseball without looking over your shoulder to make sure you're doing everything right to stay out of the hairs of some people.

"It's a little better knowing what they expect now, knowing what it takes to pitch at that level a little bit, and focusing everything on that instead of on all the little things."

Wells actually entered camp this season a little behind the others. While pitching at Class AAA Iowa late last season, he developed a stress fracture in a bone on his right forearm and didn't begin his off-season throwing program until January 1.

He attended the Cubs Convention later that month and underwent an MRI, which showed the fracture had healed. Wells was cleared for take-off.

"It was weird," he said of the injury. "I was in Iowa in August and it felt like I had a deep bruise in my forearm. I don't know where it came from; I didn't fall or bump it or anything. It just felt like a bruise. I went to the trainer and they just took care of it with ice and throwing every five days was OK.

"Then I got called up and didn't really feel it the first couple of outings, and then about every five days in between it started flaring up on me and getting worse and worse. Finally when [the Cubs visited] New York [in the final week of the season], I tried to play catch and I just couldn't do it."

Wells knows he will have to bring his A-game this spring in order to make the big league club and avoid going back to Iowa for a fourth consecutive season. The Cubs' relief corps is not entirely set in stone, but the cement is dry in most parts.

Barring injuries, right-handers Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg are locks to make the club, as is lefty specialist Neal Cotts and right-handers Chad Gaudin and Aaron Heilman.

That leaves little daylight for Wells, who says he relishes the role of dark-horse candidate in camp.

"I like it," Wells said. "I just do the little things better. I've learned from years past that trying to be a pitcher I'm not has always gotten me in trouble, so I just do what I do. If you open some eyes, I guess they call you an underdog. But if you catch somebody's eyes, it's a good feeling.

"At 26 and just having a couple of coffee, I'm not a prospect anymore. I wouldn't say I'm an underdog, but that's fine with me. I'm not really highly publicized, but I don't need all that glamour and stuff that comes with the prospects lists and all that. Hopefully I turn some heads and make the team."

Wells went into last season hoping to develop a consistent sinker to complement his four-seam fastball, slider and changeup. He made good on his goal and the sinker has helped keep him on the map, he says.

"It's added a whole new dimension to me," said Wells. "I've thrown [2.1] innings in camp and through those innings, I've gotten four groundball outs in two pitches or less."

Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason said that Toronto pitcher Roy Halladay, a master of the art of the two-seem fastball, might have had something to do with Wells mastering the sinker.

"It's a pretty solid pitch and it's just another one that adds to his arsenal," Mason said. "He can back-door it, he can front-door it. It's a pitch that's going to get him a lot more groundball outs."

It has been a long ride for Wells dating back to the summer he was drafted in ‘02. From that draft class, only Wells and first baseman-outfielder Micah Hoffpauir are still with the club. RHP Billy Petrick left the organization after last season and recently signed with the Windy City ThunderBolts of the independent Frontier League, and LHP Rich Hill was traded this off-season to Baltimore.

It has at times been a bumpy ride, but one Wells wouldn't trade.

"I've taken my lumps along the way and had my success along the way," he said. "You learn something every day and I think the basic thing is to keep an even keel and try to get better every day, and mentally to just stay content with where you're at."

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