Mike Fontenot belted a three-run homer to back Wells and lift the Cubs to a 4-2 victory on Monday over the Reds. The win boosted the Cubs into a tie for first in the National League Central with the Cardinals, who were idle.
Wells (8-4) now ranks second on the team in wins, trailing only Ted Lilly (9-7), who is on the disabled list. The right-hander went 7 1/3 innings and scattered six hits, including Alex Gonzalez's solo homer leading off the eighth. He also gave the overtaxed bullpen a chance to catch its breath.
"Where would we be without this young man?" Piniella said of Wells. "He throws strikes, pitches quick, gets his pitches over the plate, changes speeds, locates. You can say nothing but nice things, and it shows, because he's winning with consistency now."
The rookie, who went 5-1 with a 3.23 ERA in July, is closing in on his personal high in wins, which is 10, recorded last season at Triple-A Iowa.
"Maybe all the time in Triple-A, I finally learned something," Wells said. "I'm honestly not changing anything, not doing anything different. Throw strikes, give your team a chance. It works for me."
It's good advice for Marmol, who was subbing for closer Kevin Gregg. Piniella wanted to give Gregg a day off after the right-hander botched back-to-back save opportunities in Florida. Marmol made it interesting, giving up an RBI double to Gonzalez with two outs and one on. He escaped when Willy Taveras grounded out, although not without getting an earful from Piniella on the mound.
"I went out there with a message," Piniella said. "I've got confidence in Marmol. The problem is, he's making it too hard on himself. You really can't continue to throw ball three to hitters and think you'll have success in the big leagues. There's nobody who tries any harder or cares any more, but he makes it too hard on himself."
And Marmol knows that.
"[Piniella] said, 'Let's go, stop walking people out there,' " Marmol said. "I know they're going to take a pitch. I try to throw it for a strike. I try to forget about everything in the past."
Fontenot gave Wells all the runs he needed in the second. With one out, Milton Bradley was hit by a pitch, and he moved up on Alfonso Soriano's single. Fontenot followed with his ninth homer of the season off a 2-2 pitch from Aaron Harang (5-13). The second baseman's last homer was on July 24, also off Harang. He's now one away from matching his 2008 home run total, but it seems as though the pop's been missing from his bat.
"It's kind of been there, but I haven't been using it much lately," Fontenot said. "I've been getting good swings on the ball. I have to stay in a zone. When I get good fastballs to hit, I try to square them up, and I feel like I've been doing that the last few days, and I have to try to keep it rolling."
Derrek Lee added an RBI double in the eighth to chase Harang, but the Cubs left the bases loaded, and that nearly came back to haunt them in the ninth.
Wells doesn't want to talk about any postseason awards, and he is trying to keep a low profile. A 38th-round Draft pick, he didn't get much notoriety coming up in the Cubs system compared to others, such as Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. It's going to be tough not to notice him now.
"As long as I can go out there every fifth day and pitch, that's enough for me," Wells said. "I love being here, I love everything about it. I love the camaraderie of the team. I can stay under the radar as long as I want to."
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild keeps him in check.
"Every inning, every start, every side day, [Rothschild] says, 'Stay hungry,' " Wells said. "It took me forever to get here, and I don't want to go back to Iowa."
He could be part of something special, as the Cubs are in the thick of both the division and Wild Card races.
"We know where we're at," Piniella said. "[Sunday's game against the Marlins] was a tough game for us to lose in a lot of ways. We lost a chance to pick up ground in the division, and then stayed the same in the Wild Card.
"If we play well enough, we'll have plenty of time, and if we don't play well enough, it won't make any difference."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.