Cubs promoting Addison Russell in another aggressive move


Cubs promoting Addison Russell in another aggressive move

PITTSBURGH — Addison Russell will be the latest Cubs prospect to come off the assembly line.

The Cubs are promoting Russell from Triple-A Iowa, two sources confirmed after a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night at PNC Park. It’s an aggressive move that reflects the growing confidence within the clubhouse and inside the organization.

“We’re just playing the game with a lot of verve right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I really enjoy watching us play.”

A natural shortstop, Russell had just started working out at second base, preparing to play alongside Starlin Castro and add another dimension to what could become a monster lineup.

[MORE CUBS: Kris Bryant flashes star potential in win vs. Pirates]

At a time when offense is down across the game, Theo Epstein’s front office has repeatedly bet big on hitters. When everyone assumed the Cubs would need to get pitching back in the deal, Russell became the headliner in last summer’s blockbuster Jeff Samardzija trade with the Oakland A’s.

The A’s had selected Russell with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 draft out of Pace High School in Florida. He entered this season as Baseball America’s No. 3 prospect.

Russell is just 21 years old and has played only 14 career games above the Double-A level. But the Cubs accelerated the timeline after seeing his offensive game at Iowa — 14-for-44 (.318) with nine RBIs in 11 games — and the lack of production from their second basemen.

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So much for getting into a rhythm and those deliberate player-development plans. It’s only April, but the Cubs are 7-5 and want to ride this wave of momentum.

The Cubs already dropped Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect (Kris Bryant) into the middle of their lineup over the weekend. Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, Bryant and Castro combined for 11 hits in Monday’s victory over the Pirates (6-7).

“Our offense is going to win us a ton of games this year,” Jake Arrieta said after limiting the Pirates to one run across seven innings. “Because we’ve got a special lineup. It’s a lot of young players, but with the addition of Bryant now, it takes a little pressure off (everyone). Overall, we’re moving in an incredibly solid direction. It’s just fun to be a part of this.”

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night


Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: