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.

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs look to stay hot vs. Mariners today on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs look to stay hot vs. Mariners today on CSN

Jake Arrieta and the Cubs look to stay hot against the Mariners today, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Wade Miley (6-8, 5.23 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.76 ERA)

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Cubs battle rain, explode for blowout over Mariners

Cubs battle rain, explode for blowout over Mariners

A little rain Friday couldn't dampen the Cubs' spirits as they welcomed the Seattle Mariners into town.

The Cubs offense rudely greeted their American League opponent en route to a 12-1 victory at Wrigley Field that included a 74-minute rain delay after the game was well in hand.

As the Cubs have gone through a little offensive lull over the last week or so, they've maintained they need to take what's given to them from opposing pitchers and try not to do too much.

They did that and a whole lot more Friday afternoon, giving the announced crowd of 40,951 fans a lot to stand up and cheer about all game.

"Just a really well-played game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We pitched well, we played well, we did everything well. After a really hard-fought series with the White Sox, it was kinda nice to play a game like that today."

Chris Coghlan — just activated off the disabled list Friday morning — got things started with a two-out, two-run single in the second inning and then came around to score on Kris Bryant's single.

Jason Heyward added a two-run homer in the fifth inning and the Cubs then touched up the Mariners bullpen for six runs in the sixth inning, including a three-run double from Anthony Rizzo and a solo homer from David Ross.

In all, the Cubs rapped out 14 hits and walked six times. Bryant led the way with three hits and a pair of walks.

"These days are great," Ben Zobrist said. "It's a mental breather for everybody. When you get up early in the game like that, you allow the pitcher to have some breathing room.

"... I think all across the board as a team, it's a real feel-good win."

It was all the offense starter Jon Lester needed, as he tossed six shutout innings with seven strikeouts for his 11th victory on the season.

"I felt actually a lot better than I have here recently," Lester said. "Still two pointless, useless walks out there. Still trying to clean that up for whatever reason.

"But at the end of the day, we win. That's what you want to do. Guys swung the bats really well. I try to always tell them: 12 runs and an airtight defense makes the pitcher's job a lot easier."

Lester even got in on the offensive onslaught, drawing a walk and scoring a run in that sixth inning explosion. 

With the Cubs up big, Joe Maddon opted to take out Lester for the top of the seventh after 95 pitches, giving way to Justin Grimm and former Mariner Mike Montgomery for the final three innings.

The game got so out of hand, the Mariners brought in infielder Luis Sardinas to pitch the eighth inning (and he promptly retired Addison Russell, Heyward and Javy Baez in order).

The lopsided score also helps the Cubs' new bullpen, giving Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop the day off.

The Cubs have looked like a different team since the All-Star Break, with their starting rotation once again leading the National League in ERA (2.60) in the second half.

The Cubs also haven't lost a series since before the All-Star Break, taking two of three from the Rangers, Mets and Brewers before splitting a four-game set with the White Sox.

"I think to a certain degree, yes [we have gotten our mojo back since the break]," Zobrist said. "It gave us the rest that our staff needed to get back to the kind of staff that they are and our hitters — we've struggled a little bit coming out of the All-Star Game.

"But today was a good day to kinda bust through with a lot of runs early. Hopefully there's some more games like that to come."

Cubs demoting La Stella for Coghlan just about numbers game and 'rules'

Cubs demoting La Stella for Coghlan just about numbers game and 'rules'

As the new MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated this winter, count Cubs manager Joe Maddon among those who would be in favor of 27-man rosters.

Maddon and the Cubs had to make arguably the toughest roster call of the year Friday as they activated veteran Chris Coghlan from the disabled list and optioned Tommy La Stella to the minor leagues.

La Stella is not an everyday player, but performance has not been his issue at all, hitting .295 with an .846 OPS as a left-handed bat off the bench receiving spot starts at third and second base.

La Stella has also been effective lately, hitting .308 with a .419 on-base percentage in 32 plate appearances since returning from his own DL stint in early July.

"Honestly, it's just about rules," Maddon said of the move. "It's just getting Coghlan back. He was ready to come back. And Tommy had an option."

The option is really the biggest part, and the fact both Coghlan and La Stella are lefties. 

The Cubs couldn't send Matt Szczur down because he is out of options and they didn't want to risk losing him to another organization. (Plus, he's a right-handed bat off the bench who is also performing well with a .759 OPS.)

The Cubs are currently carrying three catchers, but David Ross is a valuable presence in the clubhouse, Miguel Montero is a veteran and a two-time All Star and Willson Contreras is the backstop of the future and has also seen some time in the outfield.

Among the bullpen arms, Carl Edwards Jr. can be sent down to the minors with no issues, but he has a 1.84 ERA and 0.75 WHIP.

When it came down to it, La Stella was the only option for the Cubs if they wanted to bring back Coghlan.

"(La Stella did not take it) well. And he shouldn't take it well, honestly," Maddon said. "It's an unusual moment we're in right now where we have so many guys. This is definitely an advocacy for a 27- or 28-man roster. 

"It's difficult. These are hard decisions. Guys are not gonna like 'em. I don't expect them to like 'em.

"I would not make up any kind of excuse or try to give (the media) any kind of reason other than the fact it was hard to do, (La Stella) didn't like it and again, it's part of the rules and how they are constructed in our game that kinda forces you into different moments."

Maddon said he doesn't expect La Stella to get over this move right away, suggesting it may take a few days before the 27-year-old can come to terms with it.

"The fact that he got it straight up matters," Maddon said. "And that's all you can do. There's no saying, 'You're not playing good enough; you're not hitting good enough.' You can't tell them that. It's not true.

"These are the rules. And in order to retain everybody that we want to, we had to do it this way."

Coghlan — who landed on the DL with a side/rib injury — said the Cubs told him earlier in the week that he would be activated on Friday if all continued to go well in his rehab stint but also said he did not know the corresponding move until reporters informed him in the clubhouse before Friday's game.

Coghlan felt he was ready to come back earlier than this, and his numbers in five rehab games back that up. He posted a .500 average and 1.369 OPS with Double-A Tennessee.

"You gotta get over some of those mental hurdles, but that was kinda done probably the first couple games," Coghlan said. "I had a check swing, kinda did all those things.

"I think it was just key to get some timing back. And obviously it's not the same caliber, but it's what you could get, so I was grateful for that time and (trying to) carry that over here."

The Cubs will have another tough call to make when Jorge Soler is activated from the disabled list, too.

Soler has played in six rehab games in his return from a hamstring injury but is just 2-for-19 in those contests, so the Cubs want him to work more on getting his timing back before activating him.