PITTSBURGH -- Pirates starter Kip Wells can sum up his 2005 season in one word. Irritating. Coming off an injury-plagued 2004 campaign, Wells had hoped to build upon the promise he showed in 2003, when he finished the year ranked 11th in the National League with a 3.28 ERA. But Wells has been dogged by inconsistency and a perplexing lack of command. After being knocked out his start on Tuesday after just 3 2/3 innings, Wells fell to 6-12 with a 4.86 ERA. He has dropped eight of his last nine decisions.
"It's very irritating," said Wells. "You try not to dwell on it too much when you are in the midst of trying to pitch your way out of it because you don't want to be like, 'Oh, what a bad season I'm having,' or 'Wow, what a rollercoaster it's been.' "You try to analyze the way you're pitching and why it's happening but not dwell on it. There's a fine line there." To make matters worse for Wells, who has been relatively healthy this season after struggling with blisters and numbness in his fingers in the past, the nail on the middle finger of his right hand has torn from the skin. Although Wells can pitch through the problem, it has eliminated the slider from his repertoire and limited the amount of work that he can do between starts. "I can't throw in the bullpens the way I'm used to," said Wells. "I'm kind of a creature of habit. I need to throw my bullpen [sessions] and get my body in a rhythm. I'm not able to do all of those things in between starts then it can affect the way I throw." Wells, who will enter arbitration for the third and final time this winter after earning $3.175 million in 2005, believes that there is still time to turn his season around. "I've got to figure out a way to get it done," said Wells. "There are still 10 or 11 starts left. I've got 12 losses. I can have 12 wins, hopefully." Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon has often said that Wells' stuff is on par with many of the best pitchers in the National League, including Jason Schmidt. The Bucs skipper watched Schmidt go through similar bouts of inconsistency during his time in Pittsburgh, so he's not about to throw in the towel on Wells. "From that experience and the way Jason is now, I would say you never give up," said McClendon. "I'll continue to believe in [Wells] and continue to do everything I can to make him better." Welcome to Pittsburgh: It didn't take long for Jody Gerut to make a positive impression on the PNC Park crowd. Gerut, appearing in his first game with the Pirates since being acquired from the Cubs for Matt Lawton two days earlier, went 2-for-4 on Tuesday night. "It was great," Gerut said of his Bucs debut. "It's a good crowd. They're hungry for a winner. You can just tell by the way they carry themselves during the game. It's exciting." Gerut, who was the Sporting News Rookie of the Year with Cleveland in 2003, is still in the process of recovering from a left ACL tear he suffered last September. While Gerut admits that he is not yet completely healthy, the right fielder does believe that he can contribute immediately. "I feel pretty good," said Gerut. "I'm not 100 percent, but I feel healthy enough to be competitive out in the field and to be able to help my team offensively and defensively." Gerut hopes to be back in peak condition when the Pirates report to Bradenton next spring. "Most guys that I have talked to say it takes 18 months before it becomes 100 percent again. I feel like I work harder than most but you never know," said Gerut. "You try to help Mother Nature out as much as you can by strengthening it and keeping the muscles strong around it. But you can't hurry that process." Duffy with a capital D: Rookie Chris Duffy's stellar play in center field, which has been highlighted by three diving catches during the last two games, has drawn rave reviews from his manager. "He gives me the feeling that any ball that doesn't leave the ballpark he's going to have a chance to catch it," said McClendon. "The more I see this guy, the more I expect to see [a sensational catch]." McClendon has been impressed by Duffy's speed, ability to read the ball off the bat and his direct routes to the ball. However, it is another skill that McClendon believes sets Duffy apart from most outfielders. "He has the ability to take his eye off the ball and close in on it. He can just go to a spot," said McClendon. "Andruw Jones does that incredibly well." How important is it for a team to have a center fielder with Duffy's range? "Over the course of a 162-game season, an above-average center fielder can probably save you seven to 10 games a year," said McClendon. Youth is served: The Pirates starting lineup on Wednesday night included Duffy in center field, Freddy Sanchez at third base, Gerut in right field, Jason Bay in left field, Jose Castillo at second base, Brad Eldred at first base, Ryan Doumit behind the plate and Jack Wilson at shortstop. Between them, the eight position players had a total of nine years of Major League experience entering this season. Duffy, Eldred and Doumit are rookies. Bay and Castillo are in their second seasons. Wilson, the Bucs' starting shortstop since 2001, was the most experienced player in the lineup. On deck: The Pirates and Padres will conclude their three-game series on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park. Bucs southpaw Mark Redman (5-11, 4.30 ERA) will take the hill against Padres right-hander Brian Lawrence (5-11, 4.50 ERA).
Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.