Cubs

In 'rollercoaster' Cubs year, Russell gets first win

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In 'rollercoaster' Cubs year, Russell gets first win

Friday, Sept. 3, 2010
Updated 6:45 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

James Russell made the team out of spring training as a 24-year-old rookie. Except for the 18-day stretch he spent at Triple-A Iowa in June, he has been there for almost all of the weirdness surrounding this Cubs season.

But it wasnt until the third day of September that he earned his first major-league victory. His father Jeff won 56 games, lost 73 and saved 186 for five different teams during his 14-year career. There was a text message waiting for the son on Friday afternoon, saying congratulations and call home.

Blake DeWitt secured the 7-6 victory over the New York Mets with a three-run homer he launched into Wrigley Fields right-field bleachers. Afterward the 6-foot-4-inch Russell, an easy-going type who once pitched at the University of Texas, had changed into shorts and a T-shirt and stood in front of his locker.

I guess I owe Blake a beer or two, he said.

Russell recently got a haircut, shaved his beard and joked that he looked like he was 14 years old. Outside of Starlin Castro, the Cubs can drink legally, but the average age of their roster is 28 years and 72 days, making them the eighth-youngest group in the majors.

Thats why its crucial that their next manager be able to guide players who are on a steep learning curve. A 58-77 team overall is now 7-3 since Mike Quade took over for Lou Piniella. Beyond wins and losses, Quade hopes there will be a full accounting of his 37 games in charge.

The guys are playing hard, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. Mikes done a real nice job of getting everybody involved and giving people chances and putting some people in spots that wed like them to be in, so we can see what we got by the end of the year.

Its hard to tell what the Cubs have in Randy Wells, who finished a strong rookie season at 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA last year. Just check out his splits from July (2-2, 1.83) and August (1-4, 5.91). He began September by giving in to a media label he hates.

You put yourself in the mindset coming into spring training that this sophomore jinx or whatever you guys call it isnt real, Wells said. You can work through it. But the truth of the matter (is) the biggest part of the sophomore jinx is mental. Its learning how to work through the bad things, working through the struggles.

Wells gave up three runs in the first before putting together four scoreless innings. Quade came out to the mound to visit him with two outs in the sixth and left him in the game, trying to buy time for his bullpen, and knowing that Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes were on the Mets bench.

Lucas Duda slapped an RBI double into the right-field corner for his first major-league hit to tie the game 4-4. Wells was charged with four runs on eight hits in 5 23 innings.

Its not a matter of ability. Its not a matter of stuff, Wells said. Its just a matter of knowing how to deal with this league. The reports get better. Guys have seen you.

You got to be on top of your game every time. Theres no, Ok, Im not sharp, but Im hoping guys hit balls right at people.

Wells isnt going through this alone, and he knows that he will be challenged for a job in 2011. Russell bailed him out by getting Beltran to fly out to end the sixth, minutes before DeWitt changed the game with one swing.

In front of 31,424 fans, Russell (1-1, 4.50) faced only one batter and threw seven pitches, but that was enough. Hes shown that he could be a useful bullpen piece in the future and was finally rewarded with a win. When youre young and play for the Cubs, theres no shortage of places to celebrate.

Its been quite a rollercoaster ride, but I wouldnt trade it for anything in the world, Russell said. Thats one thing I pride myself on not getting too up or too down. The minute you get really high in this game, you get a piece of humble pie. And next thing you know youre down in Triple-A.

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

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.