Chicago Cubs

Russell struggles; Time to look at Plan B?

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Russell struggles; Time to look at Plan B?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011Posted: 10:05 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Matt Garza protected his teammates late Monday night, blaming the loss to the Colorado Rockies on his error, not the three committed by Starlin Castro. Garza was upfront and accountable, saying it was all his fault.

Garza didnt throw anyone under the bus. But when asked a big-picture question about the state of the team, he accidentally let this line slip.

Were a good ballclub, man. (We) keep fighting, Garza said. Were doing all this with practically three starters.

Yes, the Cubs have lost 40 percent of their rotation and they took another hit with Tuesdays 4-3 loss to the Rockies in front of an announced crowd of 38,261 at Wrigley Field.

Making his third spot start, James Russell essentially kept the Cubs in the game, but allowed all four runs and used up his 82 pitches after four innings. Manager Mike Quade said he hasnt thought about what the Cubs will do next for a fifth starter.

(Options) change every time someone makes a start somewhere else, Quade said. You keep looking at the people that are pitching in Triple-A and anybody that can give you length and quality. And if no ones ready to do that, then well do something from within again.

Soon it could be time to take a closer look at Jay Jackson, who was part of the 2008 draft class that also yielded Andrew Cashner and Casey Coleman.

Jacksons believed to be past the elbow tendonitis issues that delayed the start of his season. Hes already made two starts for Triple-A Iowa and on Tuesday allowed one run on four hits across 6.2 innings in Memphis.

No matter what the Cubs decide, Russell has earned their trust as a situational left-handed reliever, and their respect for going with the flow.

Im here to do whatever they need me to do, Russell said. I get paid to throw a baseball. Whenever they want me to throw it, Im ready.

Todd Helton was responsible for two of the three homers that Russell allowed. Helton launched a 78 mph slider into the right-field seats Russell described it as wind-aided and blasted an 80 mph changeup that landed on top of the batters eye in center.

Heltons been doing it for a long time, Russell said. More often than not, hes going to get you.

Russell has allowed six home runs in his past two starts, a stretch of eight innings at Wrigley Field. The total damage from his three starts: 13 runs on 19 hits in 9.2 innings.

The Cubs (10-13) will send the 23-year-old Coleman (7.43 ERA) to the mound on Wednesday afternoon to avoid the sweep against the first-place Rockies (16-7). Theyll be hoping for good news by then.

Cashner (rotator cuff strain) and Randy Wells (forearm strain) will have been re-evaluated by the teams medical staff and should have a better idea when they can start throwing off the mound and thinking about bullpen sessions.

The two right-handers have been playing long toss. There is only a general feeling that Wells will come off the disabled list before Cashner, though the Cubs are not setting a timetable.

The Cubs will charter to Phoenix on Wednesday night. This upcoming series against the Arizona Diamondbacks will allow them to check on two veteran pitchers building up strength in Mesa.

Todd Wellemeyer who may have already been in the rotation if not for the hip injury that derailed his spring training continues to make progress. Doug Davis who agreed to a minor-league deal two weeks ago is also working out at the complex but will still need to pitch at an affiliate first.

Whoever joins the rotation will need more help. Alfonso Soriano who homered in the ninth inning put it simply: We got to score more runs.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”