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Russell to make first MLB start as Cubs face Astros

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Russell to make first MLB start as Cubs face Astros

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Posted: 9:27 a.m.

(AP) -- Despite two impressive outings, Houston Astros right-hander Brett Myers has yet to record a win due largely to a lack of run support.

The way he's pitched against the Chicago Cubs, he may not need much offensive help from his teammates.

Myers looks to continue his mastery of the visiting Cubs on Tuesday night when the teams continue a three-game series.

After allowing three hits and two runs - one earned - over seven innings of a 5-4 season-opening loss at Philadelphia on April 1, Myers (0-0, 2.03 ERA) limited Cincinnati to six hits and two runs in 6 1-3 innings during Thursday's 3-2 win - Houston's first of the season.

READ: Green light? Quade sends Cubs strong signals

"How good was Myers again?," manager Brad Mills told the Astros' official website. "You've got to love the way he battled all the way through."

Myers is 8-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his last nine starts against the Cubs (5-5), and limited them to one run over seven innings July 21, 2010, in the only appearance during that span where he failed to record a decision.

He went 3-0 with a 1.21 ERA in four starts versus Chicago last season, striking out 34 in 29 2-3 innings.

The NL-worst Astros (2-8) fell behind early in Monday's series opener and ultimately suffered their third loss in four games at Minute Maid Park, 5-4.

Houston increased its home batting average to .324 with 10 hits, but went 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position.

"I blame the loss on me," said infielder Joe Inglett, who left three men on base, two in the ninth. "I had the opportunity and didn't come through. Can't dwell on it. There was more opportunity for me to do something, to drive runs in, but it didn't happen."

Cubs relievers, meanwhile, stepped up to throw 2 2-3 scoreless innings after compiling a 5.14 ERA over the previous five games.

Chicago's bullpen could be in line for a heavy workload Tuesday with James Russell (1-0, 0.00) scheduled to make his first major league start.

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The left-hander, who has pitched two scoreless innings in relief this season, is not expected to make more than 50 pitches as he takes injured Andrew Cashner's turn in the rotation.

"I'm very, very excited about it," Russell told the Cubs' official website.

With outfielder Kosuke Fukudome out with a hamstring injury, shortstop Starlin Castro batted leadoff Monday and went 3 for 5 to increase his average to .364.

"I don't care what spot," Castro said. "First, second, I don't care."

Darwin Barney also continued his hot hitting, collecting two hits for the second consecutive game. He also scored twice and drove in a run.

"The kids did really, really well," manager Mike Quade said of Castro and Barney. "I liked watching them. It's fun to watch them. They feed off of each other, and they play with enthusiasm."

Carlos Pena, though, went 0 for 2 with two walks Monday and saw his average dip to .174.

Castro is 2 for 12 lifetime against Myers while teammates Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano are a combined 14 for 67 (.209) with 24 strikeouts. Pena is 0 for 5 against Myers.

The Cubs have won three of four on the road against Houston.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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