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Wells says he’s up to challenge

Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Is three weeks of surfing, hanging out at home and playing catch with your kid a good way to prepare to pitch in a pennant race?

The Dodgers will find out Sunday night when David Wells, pitching for the first time in 20 days, faces the New York Mets in a nationally televised game at Shea Stadium.

“I’m getting a second life here,” Wells said Friday, shortly after putting on a Dodgers uniform for the first time.

“I’ve been sitting around for 19 days doing nothing. I just played catch a couple of times, that was it.

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“And then you get a call that you’re going back to work and you’re pitching Sunday. Talk about getting thrown in the fire. I’ve accepted a lot of challenges in my career. This could rank right up there.”

The 44-year-old left-hander, who considered himself retired after the Padres designated him for assignment Aug. 9, was lured back into uniform when the Dodgers offered him a free-agent contract that, with incentives, could pay him more than $1.3 million over the next five weeks.

In exchange, he’ll try to spark a pitching staff that has only one win from the back end of its rotation since July 16.

“Am I the solution? Probably not,” Wells said. “But I’m the guy that loves to win and who’s not afraid to take the ball on any given day. Give me the ball and I’ll give it my best.

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“That’s all that you can ask and that’s all I can give.”

General Manager Ned Colletti admits he, too, isn’t sure Wells is the answer. But with 235 wins in a 21-year career, which ranks him 13th in history among left-handers, he’s likely to be better than the alternative.

“We’ve been struggling from time to time at the back of our rotation,” said Colletti, who has seen Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson go 5-16 with a 5.84 ERA in 30 starts combined. “At this point in the season it’s worth taking a chance with someone with David’s resume. We need a change and it seemed worth the gamble.”

The Dodgers will pay Wells about $80,000 for the last five weeks of the season -- a prorated percentage of the major league minimum salary -- but he can earn another $1.2 million in bonuses if he makes seven starts for the Dodgers.

He was 5-8 with a 5.54 ERA for the Padres despite going 0-3 with a 13.97 ERA in his last three starts. He pitched well before that, though, winning five of 10 decisions with a 4.15 ERA. And on three other occasions he pitched at least six innings, giving up two runs or fewer but failing to get a win.

“I’ve got confidence in the guy,” said Manager Grady Little, who called Wells “a hell of a competitor.”

“He’ll give up a hit here and there. He’ll give up a run here and there. But you’ll look up and see in the seventh inning you have a chance to win a game. And that’s all you can ask of a starting pitcher.”

To clear roster space for Wells, the Dodgers designated Tomko, Sunday’s scheduled starter, for assignment. When Tomko (2-11, 5.80) showed up at Shea Stadium on Friday, he found his locker was next to the empty cubicle reserved for Wells. So Tomko knew his time with the Dodgers was up long before Wells walked through the clubhouse door at 5 p.m., wearing blue jeans and dragging a blue Padres duffle bag behind him.

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Fifteen minutes later, bench coach Dave Jauss led Tomko into Little’s office where he was told the team was letting him go.

“I saw it coming,” said Tomko, who hopes to hook on with another team. “If I honestly thought I couldn’t get people out anymore I could look myself in the mirror and go ‘you need to go home for good.’ But I don’t feel like that. I don’t feel like my stuff is any worse than it was.

“It just got out of whack. It’s just get back to the basics and pitching like I did last year or the year before. So yeah it’s going to be a new start. I’m not mad. I’m not even disappointed. It’s life.”

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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