01/14/10 12:08 PM EST
Wells amped by Maddux's return to Cubs
Righty taking nothing for granted after stellar rookie campaign
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Maddux joined the Cubs this week as an assistant to general manager Jim Hendry, and he will be offering advice at the Major and Minor League levels as well as evaluating talent. Wells got to know the four-time Cy Young Award winner in Spring Training during Maddux's second tour with the Cubs.
"It's awesome," Wells said of having Maddux back. "If anything, him walking through the clubhouse on days he's here will brighten up everybody's day. Everybody knows what kind of character he is and how fun he is and how loose he can be. I think it'll rub off on a lot of guys."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella also was eager to tap into the 300-game-winner's expertise.
"This guy here, he knows how to pitch, he's a competitor," Piniella said. "This guy here basically will be a first-round Hall of Famer. It's great to have ex-Cubs, ex-big leaguers who have had success come to your camp and impart knowledge on the players and work with the coaching staff, and I'm sure we'll be a lot better because of it."
How did Maddux help Wells, who went 12-10 in 27 starts in his rookie season last year with the Cubs? The young right-hander smiled.
"It wasn't so much what he said," Wells said, "but not taking everything so seriously and pressing yourself so hard that you drive yourself to failure. He taught me how to be loose and when things aren't going your way to keep searching and don't drive yourself into the ground."
That's good advice, especially for someone like Wells, who had considered walking away from baseball. He was originally a catcher and converted to a pitcher in 2003.
|"Instead of 12, I'm going to try to win 15, 16, 17, 18 games this year."|
|-- Randy Wells|
"Ultimately, it's what are you good at, what do you want to do? You set a goal as a young kid. You're on the doorstep. It's not easy to just give up. Anybody can just give up and go back home. It's the people who persevere and really stick it out and work as hard as they can who get there."
Wells, 27, did get to the big leagues in 2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays, who selected him in the Rule 5 Draft in December 2007. But the Blue Jays decided Wells wasn't ready and returned him to Chicago in April 2008. He appeared in relief in three games that year for the Cubs in September.
He was called up in early May 2009, when Carlos Zambrano was hurt, and he never went back to the Minors. Wells led Cubs starting pitchers with a 3.05 ERA and finished tied with Ted Lilly in wins. His 12 wins last year are the most by a Cubs rookie since Kerry Wood won 13 in 1998.
"I used to say when I got to the Blue Jays that if my career ended now, I made it," Wells said. "Now, that's not good enough for me. Why not make an All-Star team? Why not MVP? Why not win the Cy Young? That's the kind of stuff that keeps you moving forward.
"I know if I have a bad spring, I could be out of a rotation spot," he said. "You've go to keep it real. People who lose focus of that are the ones who struggle. I'm not taking anything for granted."
With Lilly out for the first month following arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, Wells moves up to No. 3 in the Cubs' rotation behind Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. Others battling to start include Carlos Silva, Jeff Samardzija, Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Marshall.
"They're trying to take a job from somebody," Wells said. "I'm not letting them take it from me."
He did take some time off this winter to travel, see friends. Wells joked that he took the "Rocky" approach this offseason and just threw the ball as hard as he could into a net to get ready for 2010.
"Everybody talks about the sophomore slump that people go through," Wells said. "I don't believe in it. I was a guy who spent seven, eight years in the Minor Leagues and I got the opportunity and I caught a shooting star and I grabbed hold of it and I'm not letting go.
"I'm [ticked] I didn't win 15, 16, 17 games last year," he said. "Instead of 12, I'm going to try to win 15, 16, 17, 18 games this year. It's just the way I am. I don't ever get complacent. I want to be better. I want to pitch 10 years. I'm not going to go in there and say, 'Hey, I had a heckuva rookie year and I'm going to sit here and look pretty on the bench.'"
Wells could've had more than a dozen wins if he'd gotten some support. He did not get a decision in four of his first seven starts, and he left all four of those games with the lead. His season included eight shutout innings July 29 against Houston in a 12-0 win. In his last start, Oct. 3 against Arizona, he threw seven scoreless innings and struck out a personal-high 10 in a 5-0 win.
This weekend's Cubs Convention is a signal that fielding practice at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz., is right around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 17.
"It's kind of crazy," Wells said. "Last year, I was a fly on the wall at the Convention. It's nice to be in here and talk about something. It's like I've got a purpose here. It's cool. All the stuff that comes with having success, I'm not letting it go to my head. I'm not going to lie to you -- this is fun."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.