Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey may be the faces of the Mets' rotation, but Dillon Gee has been keeping pace with the duo as of late.
Gee looks for an eighth straight quality start this evening for New York in the middle portion of a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs, who are expected to have power-hitting prospect Anthony Rizzo at first base for this meeting.
Despite the string of quality outings, Gee won for the first time in five outings on Wednesday versus the Orioles, snapping a two-start slide. He pitched a season-high 7 1/3 innings and gave up two runs on three hits and two walks. The right-hander also matched a career best with nine strikeouts in his first win since May 25.
Gee, who set down 13 in a row at one point, improved to 5-5 with a 4.27 earned run average in 14 starts this season and said he gets motivated by the performances of Santana and Dickey.
"You see what they do," Gee told New York's official website, "and you want to do the same thing."
The 26-year-old has faced the Cubs once before and got a win on May 25 of last year, yielding four runs over six innings.
Despite a rough outing last Wednesday versus the White Sox, Randy Wells gets another shot in the Cubs' rotation tonight with Ryan Dempster out with tightness in his right lat muscle.
Wells made his first start since April 28 on Wednesday and took a 7-0 loss, hammered for three runs on five hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings of work. He fell to 1-2 with a 4.91 ERA in 11 appearances this season, including three starts, and didn't mix words about his outing afterwards.
"It's unacceptable," Wells said of his effort. "It's time to go back to the drawing board."
The 29-year-old righty, who had been pitching in relief since late May, is 0-1 with a 2.92 ERA in four career starts versus the Mets.
Wells will have the benefit of an offense that will have some excitement in it tonight with the expected Cubs debut of Rizzo.
The 22-year-old Rizzo was a sixth-round pick by Boston in 2007 and was dealt to the Padres in December of 2010 in a deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox. Rizzo hit just .141 with a homer, nine RBI and 46 strikeouts in 49 games with San Diego in 2011 before being traded to the Cubs in January.
Rizzo, regarded as the club's top prospect, was terrorizing the minors this year, batting .342 with a Pacific Coast League-leading 23 homers in 70 games with Iowa. Still, manager Dale Sveum isn't looking for Rizzo to take over the leadership role of the offense.
"He's got to understand he's not the savior of this offense now," Sveum said Monday on the Cubs' official website. "That's what he has to be careful of, is that he comes up here and tries to save a struggling offense. He can't do it with one swing of the bat all the time -- [although] it'd be nice if he does."
The Cubs got just enough offense -- as well as some help from the Mets -- to win Monday's opener 6-1, plating four runs in the seventh, an inning that featured three New York errors.
After pinch-hitter Adrian Cardenas reached third on David Wright's error on a pop up in front of the catcher, New York's Lucas Duda failed to secure a short fly to right, seeing the ball kick off his leg. Ronny Cedeno then followed with a fielding error of his own to allow another run to score.
That help allowed Travis Wood to win his second straight start for the Cubs as he permitted just five hits over seven scoreless innings as Chicago halted a four-game losing streak.
"The life on his fastball was about as good as we've all seen it," Sveum said. "He was beating guys that are good fastball hitters. He was beating them all night."
Santana gave up two runs on five hits with three walks and six strikeouts over six innings for the Mets, who have lost three straight. Ike Davis prevented the shutout with a ninth-inning solo homer with two outs.
The Cubs won four of six over the Mets a season ago.