Cubs can't overcome Wells' shaky start
Put in a hole by pitching and defense, offense remains quiet
PITTSBURGH -- Lou Piniella will have a few words for the Cubs on Friday.
His team has struggled to score runs on the road but had not been blown out with the exception of a 16-5 loss on Opening Day to Atlanta. You can add Thursday's 11-1 loss to the Pirates to that short list.
Lastings Milledge hit a pair of two-run doubles and Garrett Jones knocked in three runs to power the Pittsburgh Pirates' victory. Chicago didn't tally until Xavier Nady's RBI double with two outs in the eighth. It's the first time the Pirates have swept the Cubs since Aug. 28-30, 2006 at PNC Park..
"It wasn't a good series and today wasn't a very good game -- three errors," Piniella said. "We didn't pitch good today, we didn't hit good and we certainly didn't play good defense."
It's been a struggle to muster any offense except at home, and the Cubs totaled five runs in the three games at PNC Park.
"It's hard to win when you don't score many runs," said Piniella, whose squad was shut down Thursday by Brian Burres (2-1). The lefty, making his third start, gave up three hits over seven scoreless innings.
Piniella said he'll have a little talk with the players prior to Friday's game in Cincinnati.
"I'll say something tomorrow," Piniella said. "What am I going to say? You should be able to look in the mirror pretty easy after something like this."
The one constant for the Cubs had been their starting pitching. Chicago had quality starts in 18 of the 28 games played prior to Thursday.
"I would think, out of the 28 games we've played, our starting pitchers have given us a chance to win in 20 of them, maybe a couple more," Piniella said. "That's a pretty nice percentage. I can't remember too many games that have gotten away from us early."
Randy Wells won't forget Thursday.
Wells (3-1) threw eight straight balls to open the game and walked the first two batters. That prompted an early visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild. The Pirates went on to bat around in the inning, scoring on RBI singles by Andrew McCutchen and Jones, an RBI double by Ryan Doumit, and a two-run double by Milledge. In the second, Aki Iwamura was safe on a throwing error by Aramis Ramirez, the first of two miscues by the third baseman, and Andy LaRoche walked to set up Jones' two-run double and open a 7-0 lead.
"[Wells] didn't get the ball over, and then he got behind on the hitters and they hit him pretty good," Piniella said.
The young right-hander offered a one-minute, 15-second explanation for his outing without needing a question to get started.
"It's terrible," Wells said. "Unacceptable. Everything I've ever preached about why I'm successful, what I do to be successful, I totally got away from.
"I came in too cocky, too confident," he said. "Warming up in the bullpen, I don't think I missed a pitch. I'm laughing, joking around with [catcher Geovany Soto] before the game. I went out there and was all out of whack and let it get out of hand.
"When we needed a win the most to stop the bleeding, I got lackadaisical, wasn't on top of my game.
He didn't even take a breath in his monologue.
"That's pretty much all that happened," Wells said. "I can't throw strikes with the fastball, can't get ahead of hitters. You're flipping [bad] sliders in there, and not throwing strikes with your best pitch, which is your changeup, and that's the kind of stuff that happens. It's time to get back to work and have a reality check and realize what my job is here and what my main focus is, and that's to win ballgames.
"All that other [nonsense], [being] 3-0 and pitching for the Chicago Cubs doesn't mean [anything]," he said. "I'm here to win ballgames. As far as I'm concerned, after tonight, I'm no better than anybody. It's time to get back to work and have a good side."
And that was it.
Wells departed the game after throwing 47 pitches, 27 for strikes. It was his shortest start in his career and shortest appearance since he pitched one inning in relief Sept. 21, 2008. The Cubs entered the game with their starters having posted 18 quality starts in the first 28 games, including three by Wells. Not this time.
The Pirates took advantage of two errors in the fourth -- one by Ramirez and one by Ryan Theriot -- to add four more runs against Jeff Gray, including two on a double by Milledge, who thought the ball had cleared the left-field fence. It didn't, and he was thrown out at second.
"It wasn't a very good night," Theriot said of the game. "We have to swing the bats better. We will."
Maybe falling behind, 7-0, after two innings made it tough to focus?
"As professionals, you still have to play hard, you still have to execute no matter what the score is," Theriot said. "The game's not over until it's over. Sometimes [being behind] it lets a little air out."
That still doesn't explain the lack of offense on the road.
"Guys are going to get going and we'll be fine," Theriot said. "You just have to stay positive and focus on the good things, and hopefully it'll get going."
Piniella will probably have more to add on Friday.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.