Woeful Royals rally, whip reeling Bucs
KANSAS CITY — The Pirates were hoping Kip Wells’ return to their rotation Tuesday night would also prove to be a return to form for the 29-year-old right-handed pitcher.
Unfortunately, Wells’ first start of 2006 looked a lot like many of his outings from 2005 — when his 18 losses led the majors.
In a 10-6 loss to the lowly Royals, Wells lasted just 31/3 innings. Only 41 of his 80 pitches went for strikes. The six runs he surrendered were all earned. They came on five hits, five walks and a wild pitch.
Wells’ start was his first in the majors since undergoing vascular surgery March 6 — in Missouri — to correct a circulatory condition in his throwing arm that was diagnosed early during spring training.
“My stuff was as good as it can be, I can take heart in that,” said Wells, who continuously worked deep into counts despite often getting ahead of hitters early.
“When you don’t have consistent command … obviously, it’s an ongoing battle.”
Over the course of two minor-league rehab starts (with Single-A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona), Wells impressed the Pirates with his crisp command and velocity.
With Victor Santos on the disabled list nursing a strained right rotator cuff, Wells’ scheduled third minor-league rehab start (with Triple-A Indianapolis) was scrapped in favor of his season debut last night.
Wells was welcomed back in rude fashion, to be sure. He couldn’t hold two four-run leads.
“It’s frustrating from the standpoint of getting an early lead and not being able to do more with it,” Wells said. “I got ahead of hitters, tried to make a better pitch for a third strike, and then I look up and it’s a 3-2 count.”
Intent on putting behind them a seven-game homestand during which they went 1-6 with five losses by two runs or less, the Pirates delivered Wells an initial four-run cushion before he even took the mound. Freddy Sanchez scoring on a wild pitch from Kansas City starter Mark Redman was sandwiched between a Jason Bay sacrifice fly and Craig Wilson’s two-run homer.
In the past, run support has been to Wells what close wins have been to the Pirates this season.
Wells’ lack of control — he walked Kansas City’s first two batters and allowed David DeJesus to score on a wild pitch with two outs — was understandable and somewhat expected.
After all, he had not faced major-league competition since Oct. 1, 2005.
In the first, Wells tossed 22 pitches, but only 10 for strikes.
The Pirates re-established a four-run lead in the second when Sanchez drove home Nate McLouth with a single into shallow left, just beyond the leaping reach of Kansas City third baseman Mark Teahen.
Wells needed 23 more pitches to get out of the second, but not before the Royals plated three runs after two outs on a walk by Teahen, a single by Angel Berroa, a double by John Buck and a another single by DeJesus.
After two frames, the 15,906 in attendance were provided with ample evidence as to why these two teams were last in their respective leagues.
Wells left in the fourth with the bases loaded. The Pirates would finish the inning trailing, 6-5.
Pittsburgh committed three errors. It allowed 11 walks, though one was intentional. The bullpen surrendered four runs over 42/3 innings.
“They beat us tonight, but we kind of helped the cause along,” manager Jim Tracy said. “We didn’t pitch very well, period.”