Wells outstanding in win over Marlins
Right-hander goes eight innings, allowing only two hits
MIAMI -- Realism must ultimately reign, so the Cardinals know that they simply don't have true replacements for Chris Carpenter and Scott Rolen. However, in a week filled with bad health news regarding their two franchise cornerstones, St. Louis received a pair of outstanding understudy performances on Wednesday night.
Kip Wells pitched what may have been the finest game by a Cardinals starter this season, and Brendan Ryan made the most of his first big league start at third base, as the Cards breezed by the Marlins, 6-0, at Dolphin Stadium.
Wells won as a starter for the first time since May 23, pitching eight innings of two-hit ball. He allowed baserunners in each of the first four innings, including a leadoff double in the fourth, but kept Florida off the scoreboard. From the fifth through the eighth he was barely touched, with only a hit batter as a blemish.
"He made so many quality pitches tonight," said manager Tony La Russa. "It shows you what he's capable of doing."
Carpenter and the Cards' medical staff are pondering a course of action regarding his problematic right elbow. The ace had been slated for a return to the starting rotation within the next two weeks -- a development that might have relegated Wells to bullpen work once again.
Instead, Wells will remain in the rotation for the foreseeable future. And if he pitches like he did on Wednesday, that will be good news indeed for the Redbirds.
"We've needed him all year long," La Russa said. "There's plenty of games left. If we could get him going, it would be huge."
The Cardinals offense gave Wells a small cushion before he ever took the mound, and a big one before his fourth out. Marlins star Dontrelle Willis never got going, and was chased without retiring a batter in the fourth inning.
Run-scoring doubles by Albert Pujols and Juan Encarnacion in the first inning made it 2-0. So Taguchi added a two-run double in the second, and Encarnacion stretched the lead to 6-0 with a two-run single. The margin could have been much wider, as the Cards stranded six runners just in the first three innings. It was plenty for Wells, though.
"The thing I did today I think a little bit better was take a little more off pitches at times," Wells said. "Not necessarily fastballs, but more of a variety of offspeed pitches to kind of keep them honest. Not just going out there and trying to get my fastball.
"But it doesn't hurt either that we went out and put up a fair amount of runs early. Then if you can kind of establish in the first three innings or so that you're going to have quick innings, then that kind of limits their ability to get something going."
Ryan, meanwhile, made the most of his first start at third base since he was in short-season ball. Ryan singled in each of his first two at-bats and made two slick plays at third base.
A shortstop by trade, Ryan was pressed into service when Rolen returned to St. Louis to receive treatment for his ailing left shoulder. Scott Spiezio, the usual backup at third, is on the disabled list due to an infection in his finger.
Aside from one inning earlier this year, the last time Ryan played third base was in his fifth professional game as a member of short-season New Jersey of the New York-Penn League in 2003.
He looked like a natural at the position, though. With one out in the fourth and Miguel Cabrera on third base, Ryan snagged a ball from Josh Willingham and caught Cabrera lingering off the bag. He chased the slugger back and put a tag on him. Ryan tumbled over Cabrera and landed awkwardly, but there was no way he was coming out.
"I saw him playing chicken over there, and I knew I was faster, and I thought I had him in no-man's land, so I just went after him," Ryan said. "He got the better of me, but at least I got the out."
Ryan made another spiffy play an inning later, stabbing a hot shot from Miguel Olivo to lead off the fifth. He picked up a total of five assists on the night.
"With each ground ball, you start to feel more comfortable. That was kind of the case tonight. After a while you start to want more."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.