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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.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.