ST. LOUIS (AP) -Three effective relief outings and a successful spot start have given Kip Wells a much-needed confidence boost. Whether it gets him out of the St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen is another matter.
``I don't know, that's out of my hands,'' Wells said after allowing one run in five innings during a 7-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night. ``It's just a sign that if I deliver pitches the way I'm capable and stay aggressive for the most part, I'll have success.''
Wells, the Cardinals' biggest free-agent pickup last winter with a $4 million deal, had a major league-leading 11 losses and 6.93 ERA when he was banished to the bullpen in mid-June. Since then he's inched his way back into the picture for rotation spots that manager Tony La Russa has told him will be up for grabs after the All-Star break.
The Cardinals suddenly figure to have a wealth of candidates, with ace Chris Carpenter coming off his first rehab start on Tuesday and nearly set to join a list of seven that includes Braden Looper, Adam Wainwright, Brad Thompson, Mike Maroth, Todd Wellemeyer and Wells.
Pitchers on the bubble along with Wells are probably Wellemeyer, who lasted only three innings on Tuesday, and Thompson, taken out of the bullpen earlier this year.
``Once they kind of have the pieces where they want them, we'll address the situation,'' Wells said Thursday. ``Hopefully, I'll go out there and throw the ball well, and I'll have done my part.''
Wells retired the first 11 batters with five strikeouts in his five-inning stint, the longest for a St. Louis reliever in nearly four seasons. In three games plus the spot start since being demoted with a 2-11 record, the right-hander has allowed two earned runs in 14 innings.
On the other hand, his ERA remains an unsightly 6.06. And the five-inning stint came in a game that was pretty much out of hand.
``But he's still putting pressure on himself to get outs, so that counts,'' La Russa said. ``This is the big leagues, so you don't want to take anything away from a guy that either gets a few hits or gets outs.''
Wells requested a meeting with La Russa on Monday, seeking clarification for his role after being bypassed in the rotation once, and then making his next turn before going back to the 'pen. In that start, he gave up one run in five innings against the Phillies on June 24.
During his first stint as a reliever since 2001, Wells has had time to retool an out-of-whack delivery that he blames for his problems. Uncertainty about where his pitches would end up led to what some observers interpreted as a lack of aggressiveness, confidence or even a defeatist attitude.
Wells said his work since getting bumped following an awful start at Kansas City on June 14, in which he gave up six runs in 1 1-3 innings, reflects the improvements he's made.
``It's not a foolproof plan, but at least I'm around the glove more and that's when you hear, 'He's more aggressive,' or 'He's pitching with more confidence.'
``A lot of that stems from being able to release the ball and have a pretty good idea of where it's going, and if it's inconsistent, you can't help from have some bad vibe about what's going on.''
Wells at least got to act like a starter again on Wednesday, the day after his extended relief outing, knowing he won't be used for at least a few days.
``It's nice to get stretched out again and get my pitch count up, so that if and when that were to happen, I'm still strong,'' Wells said. ``You don't want to see other guys fail in order for you to get an opportunity, but all I can do is pitch well when I'm handed the ball.''

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