''Wells did a nice job again,'' manager Lou Piniella said. ''He could have two or three more wins. Maybe three or four.''
Wells gave up only one earned run in six innings and lowered his ERA to 2.84 but came away without a win for the seventh time in 22 starts this season when allowing two or fewer runs. He has been charged with the loss in three of those games.
''It's unfortunate; he was throwing the ball real well,'' said catcher Geovany Soto, whose two run-scoring doubles accounted for all the scoring for a Cubs lineup that went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Wells still might have five starts to get back into the middle of the rookie running. Philadelphia's J.A. Happ (10-4), who pitches tonight, is stuck on 10 wins but with fewer losses and a lower ERA (2.77). And Atlanta's Tommy Hanson (9-3, 2.07) and Pittsburgh's Garrett Jones (.308, 18 homers) also are in contention.
''He doesn't give in; he competes,'' Piniella said. ''You've got to be very pleased with him. It's probably the best development we've had here all year.''
Soto went 3-for-7 with a walk against the Mets in his only two starts since getting benched in favor of Koyie Hill a week ago, and it might have earned him more playing time.
''We'll get him in there a little more,'' Piniella said. ''He's swinging the bat. The other kid has done a nice job for us, so I'm not just going to stick with Soto. They'll both catch.''
Said Soto, the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year: ''The whole year has been up and down. For right now, I just want to go out there and play and remind those guys that I'm still here to play and I'm here for whatever they need.''
PLANS FOR SORIANO
Piniella said he doesn't plan to have left fielder Alfonso Soriano test his knee in a game in this week's series in Pittsburgh.
But he said he expects Soriano to return at some point after more therapy, at which time the Cubs will have a better idea of whether to shut him down and schedule a ''clean-out'' surgery this month or wait until after the season.
Comment at suntimes.com.
Cubs AT Pirates
Today: 11:35 a.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Ted Lilly (10-8, 3.17 ERA) vs. Daniel McCutchen (0-0, 4.50).
Tuesday: 6:05 p.m., CSN, 720-AM. Ryan Dempster (8-8, 3.96) vs. Charlie Morton (3-7, 5.43).
Wednesday: 11:35 a.m., CSN, 720-AM. Carlos Zambrano (7-6, 3.80) vs. Zach Duke (10-13, 3.71).
The story line: Sweep and go home. Anything short of that, and the Cubs can start emptying their bench for auditions and openly concentrate on next year. The Cubs have won 11 of 13 dating to last year against the Pirates, and one of the two Pittsburgh pitchers to beat the Cubs -- Tom Gorzelanny -- is now in the Cubs' bullpen. Lately? The Pirates beat the Cardinals on Sunday to snap a nine-game losing streak.
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