Cubs

Cubs monitoring Addison Russell's hamstring issues

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Cubs monitoring Addison Russell's hamstring issues

MESA, Ariz. - Will Addison Russell be able to shake his hamstring issues?

The 22-year-old shortstop has been plagued by hamstring injuries in his brief career, including a right hamstring tear in 2014 and then another injury that kept him out of the National League Championship Series last fall.

Russell hurt his left hamstring in Game 3 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals and his absence in the NLCS was one of the more underrated aspects working against the Cubs as they were swept in four games by the New York Mets.

Russell admitted it was difficult to have to sit on the sidelines and watch.

"You're grinding with these guys every single day and then you're presented a rare opportunity being able to hopefully go to the World Series. And then it ends up being cut short by an injury," Russell said.

"This year, definitely taking more precaution to make sure my body's ready for a long season."

[RELATED - No question: Addison Russell knows he belongs now with Cubs]

Russell showed up to camp in great shape, drawing rave reviews from manager Joe Maddon for his conditioning.

Over the winter, Russell worked out at the Andrews Institute in Northwest Florida, specifically working on strengthening and training his legs and back muscles in an effort to avoid injuries.

"I'm pretty confident in my hamstring this year," Russell said. "I've been working out really, really hard and I'll hopefully be able to swipe more bags this year."

Maddon is thinking along those same lines, talking last week about Russell's physical shape and how the second-year shortstop is quicker laterally, which will help in the field and on the basepaths.

But are the Cubs really going to want to risk Russell's health stealing bases when he has a history of hamstring issues?

The Cubs traded away Starlin Castro in the offseason, so the Cubs don't have as many backup options now. In the case of another Russell injury, Javy Baez would probably have to move from his super-utility role or else that burden would fall on 33-year-old light-hitting Munenori Kawasaki (.599 career MLB OPS) or 34-year-old Ben Zobrist who hasn't played shortstop since 2014.

However, that's all hypothetical and obviously the Cubs are hoping it never gets to that point.

The Cubs are working with Russell to correct his running mechanics, similar to what they did with Jorge Soler - who also has been hampered by soft-tissue injuries.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

"We watch it closely," Maddon said. "You gotta monitor him. ... Watch for any little signs and give him some rest when it's necessary. It's communicative. You gotta talk to the guy, listen to your trainers. If there's any kind of inclination, just back it off and give him a day.

"People will say, 'Oh he's only 22, he doesn't need a rest.' I'm so over that discussion. It's not true. It's 162 games, there's very little rest, you're on planes all the time, you're playing at different hours. There's all kinds of different items that are involved.

"These guys, they need rest, too, if you want them to play well at the end of the season. It was unfortunate what happened at the end of last season [with Russell], but we'll do everything we possibly can to monitor it."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

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USA TODAY

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

The Cubs continued their recent struggles, suffering their third straight loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

But the game was not without its fair share of drama. The matchup was a back-and-forth affair, up until the Reds blew the game wide-open in the bottom of the third inning. This included a grand slam by Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, the first home run of his career.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to the bullpen following Cincinnati's third inning explosion, and things did not get much better from there.

With the Cubs down six runs in the bottom of the eight inning, Maddon brought in catcher Chris Gimenez to pitch. 

This was not new territory for Gimenez, who despite being a catcher, now has 10 MLB pitching appearances to his name. 

Down six runs, Gimenez didn't have a lot to lose. But Reds first basemen Joey Votto hammered a fastball in the zone for his eighth homer of the year.

Gimenez had a career ERA of 8.00 before Saturday's appearance, and he certainly didn't do much to help lower that figure.

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers: "Including one today, Cubs relievers have allowed 41.1 percent of inherited runners to score in June, sixth most in the NL." 

A tired bullpen is certainly cause for concern for the Cubs, who are locked into a battle in the NL Central with the Brewers and Cardinals. Maddon was surely hoping to keep his bullpen arms fresh with the move, seeing as the game was already out of reach. 

So yes, the game did end in a 11-2 win for the Reds. But with a grand-slam by a pitcher—on his first career HR no less—and four-seam fastballs from a catcher, Cubs baseball always keep things interesting.