Closer roulette: Cubs will see if Russell is ready for prime time

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Closer roulette: Cubs will see if Russell is ready for prime time

PITTSBURGH James Russell was born with the DNA to close, and he already has the look down, with long hair flowing out of his hat and a dark beard covering his face.

The Cubs are running out of options for the ninth inning. Dale Sveum sort of chuckled on Sunday when he wondered what those might be. By process of elimination, the manager is down to Russell and Shawn Camp.

The night before, Rafael Dolis had walked two Pittsburgh Pirates and hit another, forcing in the game-winning run. So the 24-year-old rookie is out as closer, though its not like the Cubs are generating many save opportunities these days.

Its a confidence-booster, for sure, Russell said. Those are the big spots. You have a lot of accountability there. Im dont mind being that guy. Im happy to be that guy.

Carlos Marmol, whos recovering from a hamstring strain, was scheduled to pitch at Triple-A Iowa on Sunday and could be activated from the disabled list by Monday or Tuesday.

Sveum has said that the ex-closer with the 20 million contract and a 6.35 ERA will have to show that he can throw strikes and wont be handed the job back automatically.

Dolis who had pitched in one game above the Double-A level until this season picked up four saves but woke up Sunday having given up six runs in his last four appearances. Sveum admitted that Dolis was being put in a situation he probably shouldnt have been in.

Russell (1-0, 1.74 ERA) may not be the ideal answer. Sveum still thinks of him more as a matchups guy, though one who can still get right-handers out.

The 26-year-old left-hander has the bloodlines. His father Jeff saved 186 games in a 14-year big-league career. They talk after almost every outing.

I havent really asked him about just straight-up closing before, said Russell, who made 40 starts in the minors. Ive never really thought about myself being put in the position of closer.

Its kind of funny that now Im being thrown around in there, because thats always been the last thing on my mind as a baseball player. But its kind of cool. I have to get some pointers from him.

As Sveum said: Those genes usually work out.

But at this point, the manager will just settle for someone who can throw strikes. On some nights, it could be Camp (2-2, 2.84), who spent years battling those brutal lineups in the American League East.

The two guys who have constantly done it are Camp and Russell, Sveum said. If something happens, its going to be because (the other team) hit the ball. Were imploding by walking guys and hitting guys.

That might not be the strongest vote of confidence, but it will be interesting to see what Russell does with this opportunity, in a year the Cubs are trying to identify core players for the future.

Im ready for a phone call no matter what, Russell said. You got to look at it as three outs, whether its in the first inning or the ninth inning. Its three outs and you got to go out there and make your pitches.

A 14th-round pick in the 2007 draft, Russell broke into the big leagues in 2010 pitching for Lou Piniella, a manager not known for his patience with relievers.

Russell has been the same easy-going guy ever since, and would like to be a major part of Theo Epsteins rebuilding project.

You cant worry about the stuff you cant control, Russell said, whether its offensive woes or manager changes, front office changes. Its just something so far out of my control. You just dont even really worry about it. You just kind of go about your business and make sure youre ready every day.

Russell, who attended the University of Texas, is a bit of a free spirit, regularly wearing the Ditka and Dont Toews Me, Bro T-shirts you can buy on Clark Street.

Russell was asked if hes crazy enough to handle the ninth inning.

Yeah, absolutely, he said, crazy, stupid, whatever.

View from the Moon: Bears take another wrong step in loss to Cowboys

View from the Moon: Bears take another wrong step in loss to Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Tex. – The stated base goal of John Fox is to improve every week, show improvement somewhere. Three games in the 2016 season, the exact opposite is transpiring, with all the ominous implications that go with that trend line for an organization trying to pull itself out of what had looked to be a generational low point. Before Sunday anyway.

The Bears’ 31-17 beating at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys left the Bears (0-3) with a second straight winless September. But while some positives were found among the losses to Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle last September, the only one from Sunday seemed to be that the Bears didn’t quit, something that seemed vaguely the case as the Philadelphia game wound down.

Brian Hoyer started in place of Jay Cutler, sidelined with a thumb injury, and whether he makes a case for a change at quarterback remains to be seen. What Hoyer did do, though, was bring the Bears back, at least close to respectability, in the second half in what he personally is taking away as one significant positive from a bad game.

“The one thing that I’ll say is that to see the resilience in that [locker] room, to come back out down 24-3 at halftime and keep battling, it’s good to see that,” Hoyer said. “It’s good to have that perseverance even in tough times. You’ve got to take that, build on that and figure out how to move the ball.”

But Hoyer acknowledged that there are no moral victories in the NFL, and Sunday was not one of those anyway.

The Bears led into the fourth quarter against Houston. They led until just before halftime against Philadelphia. They never were close to leading the Cowboys.

“I think we were kind of reversed this week – very poor first half and I thought we got better on both sides of the ball the second half,” Fox said. “The bad thing about the first three games is we haven’t put a complete game together.”

More concerning perhaps, the Bears have been outplayed in virtually every phase of every game, and looked sloppy and undisciplined too often in the process, hinting at breakdowns beyond just talent issues.

Each week this season has left the Bears seemingly worse than they were the week before. The second-half collapse at Houston was followed by a more woeful performance against the Philadelphia Eagles last Monday, which seemed almost encouraging compared to this Sunday, when the Cowboys ran up 274 yards and 24 points on the Bears – only six yards and five points fewer than the Eagles hammered for in their full game against the Bears.

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The last time the Bears saw the Cowboys, the defense of Mel Tucker allowed Dallas 194 rushing yards and 41 points. The Cowboys had 135 yards and 24 points in just the first half this time. Bears opponents scored 74 and 62 points on the historically bad Tucker defenses of 2013 and 2014. The Bears of Fox/Vic Fangio allowed 105 yards in the first three last year and 83 this year.

The offense under coordinator Dowell Loggains started the season badly and initially took another step backwards against the Cowboys. The Bears managed all of four first downs and barely eight minutes time of possession in the first half. The offense scored 14 the first week, seven the second (special teams returned a punt for a TD vs. Philadelphia) and three until the Cowboys had 24 this week.

Special teams committed penalties on consecutive plays of the first half, the second costing them a recovered onside kick.

The options now? “Give up, give in or give it your all,” Fox said. “We’ve got the right kinds of guys in that locker room and I think we’ll improve from it.”

Crippled Bears struggle in loss to Cowboys, remain winless on season

Crippled Bears struggle in loss to Cowboys, remain winless on season

ARLINGTON, Texas — Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott’s first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he’s up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offence early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox.

Making his 27th career start for his fourth different team, Hoyer was 30 of 49 for 317 yards -- a good portion of that with the game out of each late in the fourth quarter -- and threw for two scores to Zach Miller.

Rookie fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott had his first 100-yard game for Dallas, finishing with 140 yards on 30 carries and a 14-yard run when he hurdled safety Chris Prosinski.

It didn't even bother Prescott that Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith missed just the second game of his six-year career after his back tightened up during the week.

Prescott was 19 of 24 for 248 yards in Dallas' first home win since last year's opener, which was a week before the first of two broken left collarbones that kept Romo out of 12 games last season. Romo is expected to miss about another month after breaking a bone in his back in the preseason.

Prescott had one of three rushing touchdowns for the Cowboys, who have seven this season after getting eight all of last year, when they finished 4-12.

Because the Bears fell behind again, they couldn't do much with the running game. They had just 15 carries for 73 yards and lost leading rusher Jeremy Langford to an ankle injury in the second half.

MISSING PIECES

It was Chicago's first game without linebackers Danny Trevathan (sprain thumb) and Lamarr Houston (season-ending left ACL year). And the Bears struggled to slow the Cowboys, getting outgained 274-114 in the first half. Dallas had a 19-4 edge in first downs before halftime and finished with 447 yards, including 199 on the ground.

STAYING ALIVE

The Cowboys were on their way to a score on a fifth straight possession when Terrance Williams fumbled at the end of a 47-yard catch on the opening drive of the second half. The Bears turned that into the first of Hoyer's two TDs to Miller, a 2-yarder on fourth down to cut it to 24-10.

INJURIES

Chicago S Harold Jones-Quartey left with a concussion in the first half and didn't return. ... The Cowboys lost another lineman when LG La'el Collins missed the second half with a sprained foot. Ron Leary, the starter who lost his job to Collins this season, was his replacement.