Cubs

Addison Russell feels ‘sharp, pinching pain’ in shoulder as Cubs face more questions with All-Star shortstop

Addison Russell feels ‘sharp, pinching pain’ in shoulder as Cubs face more questions with All-Star shortstop

MIAMI – Injuries keep weighing the Cubs down as the defending World Series champs keep trying to finally take off this season.

The right shoulder that has been bothering Addison Russell off and on since at least spring training grounded the All-Star shortstop during Sunday’s 4-2 loss at Marlins Park, exiting with what he described as a “sharp, pinching pain.”       

“I definitely know when I can go and when I need to shut it down,” Russell said. “There’s a difference between whenever you’re trying to work through something or you’re working against something.

“I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with my shoulder. But I definitely want to make sure, so I have that (peace of) mind.”

Russell couldn’t handle the spin on an Ichiro Suzuki chopper in the first inning, and that costly error helped Miami generate three unearned runs. Known more for his steady play and athleticism, Russell doesn’t really have that classic shortstop arm.

By the fourth inning, the Cubs rearranged their defense, with Javier Baez moving from second base to shortstop. This 38-37 team already has a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist), Gold Glove outfielder (Jason Heyward) and Cy Young Award finalist (Kyle Hendricks) on the disabled list.   

“Nobody seems to think it’s awful,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Right now, I’m not hearing bad, so I just need to be educated more on it, because I’m hearing with maintenance, with exercise, all that kind of stuff, he should be able to play.

“But of course, I do not want to play anybody that’s injured. I don’t want to be responsible for hurting a young man like this, so I need to get more intel regarding what we need to do next.” 

This lingering shoulder issue sidelined Russell in the middle of May – without a detour to the disabled list – and he eventually fell into a timeshare with Baez as he tried to get out of an offensive spiral while dealing with off-the-field issues. 

Through her divorce attorney last week, Russell’s wife disclosed that she will not meet with Major League Baseball officials looking into an abuse allegation made by a third party on social media, a development that would significantly hinder the investigation.

[MORE: Cubs not worrying about a thing after split with Marlins: 'We're right there'   

Russell – who denied the accusation – wants to keep the focus on the field. He has actually seen an offensive turnaround since details from his private life became public, hitting .357 with four homers and 10 RBI in his previous 12 games.        

“It’s just a long season,” Russell said. “I know my body’s strong enough. I know that I can get through the full season. This year, it’s brought on new things that you have to get over, new things you have to learn, and injuries are definitely one of those things where I feel like I can help prevent, as far as treatment.

“As far as the shoulder thing, I think I need to be more self-aware and take responsibility.”

Russell is only 23 years old and time will tell if this really is a day-to-day issue that can be managed or a long-term concern with a franchise shortstop.  

“But it’s never been debilitating,” Maddon said. “It’s just something that requires a little bit of rest and then he’s fine again. It’s just a young arm. Almost like a young pitcher, as he develops more arm strength and gets into probably a more consistent routine in between playing (with) exercises to prevent that kind of a nagging thing.

“As of right now, it’s nothing debilitating. It’s just nagging.” 

The Confidence Conundrum: How Albert Almora Jr. turned his season around

The Confidence Conundrum: How Albert Almora Jr. turned his season around

What's the secret behind Albert Almora Jr.'s recent offensive resurgence?

It wasn't switching to an axe bat like Kris Bryant. It wasn't even a mechanical adjustment of any kind.

No, Almora has turned things around at the plate just because he has more of a belief in himself right now.

"This game is all about confidence," the Cubs centerfielder said. "It's a game of ups and downs. It's tough mentally, but the quicker you could get back to having that confidence, the better. It's kinda like tricking yourself."

Having 39,246 people demand a curtain call has to do wonders for your confidence.

Almora hit his first career grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning Wednesday night and was none too happy to oblige the packed house at Wrigley Field.

That blast was his fifth homer of the season, which ties the total he reached in all of last season.

Over the first 21 games of 2019, Almora was hitting just .182 with a .432 OPS and 0 extra-base hits in 61 plate appearances.

Then he pinch hit against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on April 25 and smacked his first homer of the season. Since then, he's hitting .341 with a .966 OPS and 12 extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. 

So if the difference is confidence, is there a way to manufacture confidence? Like a "fake it until you make it" kind of thing?

"No, it's tough," Almora said. "It really is. Maybe some guys are really good at it. Defensively, it's a different type of confidence, because you can control more, but you can be confident at the plate and not have the results."

When Bryant started turning things around at the end of April, much was made about his switch to an axe bat. There's no doubt that change in weaponry perfectly correlated with Bryant's red-hot production at the plate over the last month, but even he downplayed the whole thing, using the idiom, "it's not the arrow, it's the Indian" on the Cubs' last homestand.

In talking about Bryant Tuesday night, all Joe Maddon discussed was the star player's confidence, saying he is "unconsciously confident" in every aspect of his game right now.

"It's just who I am — I feel like this is me as a baseball player," Bryant said. "I'm working counts, getting on base, baserunning, playing all over. When I'm doing that, I feel pretty confident, so I hope I can continue that."

Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce echoed Almora's sentiment that baseball is all about confidence and while mechanical changes can certainly help breed that confidence, the only real way to build it is with positive results on the field. 

Obviously mechanics come into play all the time in professional baseball and there's no doubt Almora's and Bryant's physical mechanics are locked in at the moment.   

But there's no substitute for confidence and there's no drill to work on something that isn't tangible and can't even be quantified. 

"I don't know [how to build confidence]," Almora said. "I wish I had the answer. That's why this game is so hard. You just gotta battle and try to not ride that huge up-and-down roller coaster. Try to stay the same. I feel like just having a good attitude is a good part of it and I think it's something I'm trying to feed off of my teammates. I think I've been doing a really good job of just being happy no matter what."

This is Almora's fourth year in the big leagues and he's closing in on 1,100 plate appearances at this level. But he still doesn't feel like he's come anywhere close to mastering the Confidence Conundrum.

"No, because you wanna perform every year, so every year's different no matter what," Almora said. "I've had success hitting at the big-league level, but every year's a new challenge and every year you have challenges for yourself and for your team to win, obviously. It never gets easier."

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Amid rough patch, Cubs shake up their bullpen

Amid rough patch, Cubs shake up their bullpen

The Cubs bullpen has been under the microscope recently as they've hit another rough patch.

With Pedro Strop on the injured list, Cubs relievers have combined for a 5.04 ERA and 1.72 WHIP over the last week, allowing 32 hits and 11 walks against only 15 strikeouts in 25 innings.

The Cubs are shaking things up, sending veteran left-hander Xavier Cedeno to the injured list with left wrist inflammation and promoting right-hander Rowan Wick from Triple-A Iowa.

"We had to get things straightened out out there," Joe Maddon said of the bullpen. "Cedeno's still not 100 percent right, so we made that move. Wick's up and he's been pitching really well. We liked him in spring training; he provides length if we need it also, so there were a lot of reasons to do it, but he was pitching well enough to be here, too."

The Cubs acquired Wick, 26, from the Padres back in November for minor leaguer Jason Vosler. Wick has pitched well in Triple-A Iowa this season — in 13 outings, he has a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while striking out 25 batters in 19 innings. 

Of his 13 appearances, 7 have been of a multi-inning variety and he hasn't allowed a run in his last 3 games (6.2 innings). He said a key to his success has been the ability to throw three different pitches for strikes and has been in a good flow lately of getting ahead in the count.

Wick made 10 appearances for the Padres in San Diego last year, sporting a 6.48 ERA in 8.1 innings.  The results weren't what he wanted in the big leagues, but that experience is something he can rely  on now.

"[I learned] that I can pitch here and that I belong," Wick said. "To be comofttable and hopefully pitch well."

Cedeno, 32, signed with the Cubs just before spring training started, but has been hampered by the same wrist issue all spring. He was first activated off the injured list less than two weeks ago and did not give up a run in 5 appearances, though he surrendered 4 hits and 3 walks in just 2 total innings of work.

With Wick in tow, the Cubs bullpen now looks like this:

Steve Cishek
Brad Brach
Brandon Kintzler
Kyle Ryan
Mike Montgomery
Tyler Chatwood
Carl Edwards Jr.
Rowan Wick

Strop is working his way back from a hamstring injury and threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, so his return may not be far off. 

Brandon Morrow resumed his throwing program Monday, as well, but is still weeks away from returning even in a best-case scenario.

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