SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Randy Wells gets his first shot at the fifth starter spot when he pitches against the Royals on Saturday (2:05 p.m. CT).
Wells is one of five prime candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation and the most experienced. He made 86 starts for the Cubs over the past four years before signing with the Rangers on a Minor League contract.
He was 20-24 with a 3.70 ERA in 59 starts for the Cubs in 2009-10, but dropped to 7-6 with a 4.99 ERA in 23 starts in 2011 after missing six weeks at the start of the season with a strained right forearm.
He was healthy in Spring Training and pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings. But the Cubs -- under Theo Epstein's new regime -- surprised Wells and others by optioning him to Triple A to begin the season. It all started unraveling after that. He shuttled between the Cubs and Triple A, going 1-2 with a 5.34 ERA in four starts and eight relief appearances at the big league level. His season came to an end on July 25 when he had surgery on his right elbow.
"It was a little bit of everything," Wells said. "In the spring, I felt good and was throwing well. To get sent out deflated me mentally. I kind of lost confidence and had to battle through some tenderness in the elbow. It kind of snowballed me. I didn't handle it well."
Wells refused outright assignment after the season and became a free agent. He and Kyle McClellan are the two non-roster veterans competing for the fifth starter spot against reliever Robbie Ross and rookies Justin Grimm and Martin Perez.
The Rangers like Wells because he throws strikes with four pitches, keeps the ball down, makes pitches and doesn't get rattled on the mound. But his best asset to make the Opening Day rotation could be Colby Lewis.
Lewis is coming off flexor tendon surgery and could be ready by June 1. If that appears to be the case, it could influence who the Rangers choose as their fifth starter.
"If he continues to feel this good, we're going to be in good position," general manager Jon Daniels said. "If it looks like he'll be back on the early side, we'll factor that in."
That means the Rangers could leave Ross and McClellan in the bullpen and Grimm and Perez in Triple A, leaving Wells as the temporary fifth starter until Lewis gets back. That would give time to make a more lasting impression.
"I just want to make a name for myself and prove I'm healthy," Wells said. "When I'm healthy, I'm a quality pitcher who can throw strikes and pitch innings. I want to prove my worth to the guys up top."