Wells struck out 12 while pitching a four-hitter and started a three-run fifth inning with a double, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 3-0 victory on Tuesday night.
Jason Bay hit a two-run homer and Matt Lawton added a run-scoring double to support Wells (6-8) with the first runs the Pirates have scored with Wells on the mound in a span of five starts dating to June 14. Wells went 0-4 during the stretch, yielding 20 earned runs and 26 hits in 16 2/3 innings.
Wells lasted only two innings in his previous start, a 7-5 loss Thursday to the Nationals during which he and manager Lloyd McClendon had a loud, long exchange about Wells' struggles. McClendon was ejected during that game, one of 16 Pittsburgh losses in a span of 21 games.
"Obviously, everybody's been frustrated," Wells said. "It was a good chance for me to redeem myself."
Especially with his manager, who has long been Wells' most vocal supporter. But McClendon has become increasingly frustrated with the right-hander's inability to harness abundant talent that's not reflected in his 53-59 career record.
"I've said countless times his stuff is as good as anybody in the National League," McClendon said. "When he's in the strike zone, he's going to get easy outs with that heavy sinker he has. He showed tonight how he can overpower guys."
The fading Phillies not only lost their 12th of 16 games, they also got a big scare in the first inning when the Pirates' Jose Castillo hit a line drive off right-hander Jon Lieber's right elbow. X-rays did not reveal any broken bones, but it's too early to tell if Lieber can start Sunday against the Nationals.
"I was definitely relieved, and it's not going to be too long," said Lieber, who is 7-1 against Pittsburgh, his former team. "Let's get back to Philadelphia and see how it feels on Friday and let the doctors look at it."
Geoff Geary followed Lieber with three shutout innings, but Wells greeted Ryan Madson (4-3), the Phillies' third pitcher, with an opposite-field double to right for his first extra base-hit this season and Lawton followed with a run-scoring double.
Bay, the Pirates' only All-Star representative, then hit his 16th homer, a drive into the left-field seats. Bay also had a double and a single to raise his average to a team-high .313.
Until the three-run inning, the Pirates hadn't scored with Wells on the mound since he held Baltimore to one run in seven-plus innings in a 6-1 victory on June 8. Since then, he had fought with his control and an inability to put batters away after going deep into counts, walking 12 and allowing five homers during the four consecutive losses.
But Wells was sharp from the start Tuesday, not allowing a hit until David Bell's leadoff single in the fifth. He walked the bases full in the fourth, but got Ryan Howard on a sharply hit ball to center to end the threat.
"His breaking ball got real good after that and he got it down," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
The only other Phillies hits were singles by pinch-hitter Endy Chavez in the fifth -- Wells then got Jimmy Rollins to ground into an inning-ending double play -- and Chase Utley in the seventh and ninth. Wells struck out the side in the ninth to set a career high in strikeouts; his previous high was nine.
"This was a testament to throwing strikes and staying ahead in the count and being aggressive, instead of just picking at hitters," Wells said.
Wells also made a minor but significant adjustment by moving from the third base side of the rubber to the first base side.
"It's not an easy adjustment to make, but he did it between starts," pitching coach Spin Williams said. "After struggling for three, four starts, a performance like this is pretty impressive."
Wells had only two other complete games in 153 starts, including his only other shutout -- against the Cubs in a game also started by Lieber on May 29, 2002. His other complete game was against Atlanta on Sept. 7, 2003.
- Wells is 4-0 in his four career starts against Philadelphia.
- Lieber's teams had been 10-1 against the Pirates in his 11 previous starts against them.
- Until Wells won, Pirates starting pitchers had lost their last seven decisions and 11 of 13.
- The Pirates had lost six of seven overall.
- The Pirates' Jack Wilson singled twice after starting the game in a 3-for-31 slump.