Name: Jared Wells
DOB: October 31, 1981
It was that day that Wells made his first relief appearance since July 21, 2004 – the only time he had ever appeared out of the pen in a professional career that began in 2003 and included 101 starts compared to one lone relief appearance.
From that day forward, however, Wells was a reliever. He walked one and struck out two to earn the save. He would make two more starts before converting to the pen full-time, beginning as a setup man.
As the season progressed, Wells was given the closer's role down the stretch, notching nine saves and converting his last seven opportunities.
After posting a 1-6 record with a 7.20 ERA as a starter, Wells ended the year with a 2-1 mark that included the nine saves and a 2.93 ERA across 37 relief appearances.
Wells was able to come in and attack hitters, knowing that he was destined to last an inning or two at most. He didn't have to hold anything back in fear of them learning what he would do to them the second time around.
"I could not be happier for Jared Wells," former Portland pitching coach Gary Lance said. "People wrote him off. All it is is some guys are more suited for the bullpen because they don't have to be tacticians. He is not necessarily capable of doing that. He is brawny ‘here is my fastball. Here is my slider. I am not trying to set you up.'
"It reminds me of Goose Gossage. He would say, ‘Here is my fastball. I am going to beat you or you are going to beat me. I am not going to nip a corner.' Goose couldn't do it. Jared reminded me a lot of Goose in that regard – mentally speaking. Jared got into a position and niche that suited him perfectly. He got better and better every time out. His last outing in the last game – he made it look so easy and his body language was so confident, relaxed. I was bursting with pride."
That mental aspect had hindered him in the past. Now, the block was gone and he focused on throwing strikes, working ahead in the count and getting batters to put the ball in play or going for the strikeout when necessary.
He was throwing fewer pitches per inning as a reliever and was throwing more strikes. After tossing 61.6 percent of his pitches for strikes as a starter, Wells was working at 64.2 percent efficiency out of the bullpen.
As a starter, Wells had always had trouble coming to grips with pitch sequencing. Setting up a hitter was not his style, but he was in a role where he could grip it and rip it.
"He was a starter and one of the things he had trouble with was changing speeds," former Portland manager and current San Diego third base coach Rick Renteria said. "What he started effectively doing – he ended up closing for us the last six or seven games – and what he started concentrating on was being effective with his off-speed pitch.
"When your fastball and your slider are two or three miles in differential, it is not bad to have it if you can throw something to keep a hitter off-balance – which was the split. He started to throw it more and ended up being a pretty dang good pitch. The question will be how often can he command it. He started throwing it during the season where maybe one in 10 would be effective, then two of 10, then three of 10. He got to the point at the end where maybe we were hitting it 50 percent of the time. It is one of those things he still needs to work on."
With a plus fastball and plus slider, Wells found comfort in that role.
"I can't believe how well he turned it around," said Lance. "Me and Mike Couchee (Padres' pitching coordinator) spoke about it and decided to move him into the closer's role to see how he responds. Look how it turned out. He blossomed as the closer. His confidence soared. You can't just play it safe all the time. He didn't think and it was a beautiful thing to see."
The right-hander would get mad at himself for a mistake pitch, and that would adversely affect his outing. Wells also allows an error by teammates affect his performance on the mound.
Instead of having the confidence necessary to make his pitches, Wells lacked the trust needed to execute.
He had gotten to the point in Portland where he was using his fastball too much. Knowing it was an effective pitch, Wells became much too reliant on it. As he tired, it would also throw off his line to the plate. Getting back online would require a changeup – a pitch he had to tell the catcher to call more often to keep him from getting too fastball heavy.
In the relievers' role, Wells could come hard all the time without fear. The thinking disappeared. He became more of a machine that pumped the ball, mixing in his slider and an occasional changeup.
With a fastball that can hit 95 MPH and regularly sits in the low-90s, Wells gets a lot of late life on the pitch when he keeps a consistent release point. Always favoring a strikeout to a ground out, Wells can use the heater as a swing-and-miss pitch and will elevate the fastball to get a hitter swinging nearing the eyes.
Wells also has a plus slider that shows good bite and drops towards the back leg of a left-handed hitter and away from right-handers.
His changeup shows flashes of being an above average pitch; it was that progress that had San Diego believing he could make it as a starter. It is a pitch that Wells quickly loses confidence and feel for, thus forgetting about it. The backdoor action, however, will prove to be an asset against right-handed hitters who will sit on his hard stuff away.
"He has a good changeup," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk noted. "But, the short stints are better than the seven inning stints. That one inning closer-type or two innings is better where he can be more dominant. Come in and blow people away."
He has matured in the last year and no longer allows the little things to be absorbed into his frame, letting it fall of his shoulders. Where that proved crucial was down the stretch as the Beavers closer.
There were some in the organization who wondered if it was wise to put Wells – and what they believed was a fragile mind – in that role.
"I have never lied to him," said Renteria. "He was one of those guys thinking he should be in the big leagues. "Everyone else is getting a shot. Why can't I?'
"‘I am not going to lie to you. I have never lied to you. You need to be able to change speeds. That is something that is very important. You throw a heavy fastball, no question about it, but you still have to throw something that throws the hitter off-balance.'
"And he did. He started to use it effectively. I think it is one of those things he is going to continue to try and master. I am happy the way he finished."
He ended up flourishing, allowing a single run over his final 15.2 innings while striking out 21.
"I think he is proving to us and himself that that might be his role in advancement to the big league level," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He has kind of struggled mastering the third pitch – the changeup or even the spread finger pitch – which is too bad because certainly starters are more valuable. There are numerous starters who have got up to the big leagues but kicked it off in the bullpen. From there you had more time to develop the third pitch but who knows. That may be his role. Finally, we got to a point where there is performance where he can build off of in the bullpen."
ETA: Wells will begin the year in Triple-A Portland but has a chance to help out the big league club early and often. On the 40-man roster, he will be looked out to help the bullpen if overuse or injury befalls any pitcher. To do so, he must continue the momentum he built towards the end of last year and show it wasn't a fluke. Expect him to be a contributor in San Diego this season.
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