Cubs

Russell struggles; Time to look at Plan B?

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Russell struggles; Time to look at Plan B?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011Posted: 10:05 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Matt Garza protected his teammates late Monday night, blaming the loss to the Colorado Rockies on his error, not the three committed by Starlin Castro. Garza was upfront and accountable, saying it was all his fault.

Garza didnt throw anyone under the bus. But when asked a big-picture question about the state of the team, he accidentally let this line slip.

Were a good ballclub, man. (We) keep fighting, Garza said. Were doing all this with practically three starters.

Yes, the Cubs have lost 40 percent of their rotation and they took another hit with Tuesdays 4-3 loss to the Rockies in front of an announced crowd of 38,261 at Wrigley Field.

Making his third spot start, James Russell essentially kept the Cubs in the game, but allowed all four runs and used up his 82 pitches after four innings. Manager Mike Quade said he hasnt thought about what the Cubs will do next for a fifth starter.

(Options) change every time someone makes a start somewhere else, Quade said. You keep looking at the people that are pitching in Triple-A and anybody that can give you length and quality. And if no ones ready to do that, then well do something from within again.

Soon it could be time to take a closer look at Jay Jackson, who was part of the 2008 draft class that also yielded Andrew Cashner and Casey Coleman.

Jacksons believed to be past the elbow tendonitis issues that delayed the start of his season. Hes already made two starts for Triple-A Iowa and on Tuesday allowed one run on four hits across 6.2 innings in Memphis.

No matter what the Cubs decide, Russell has earned their trust as a situational left-handed reliever, and their respect for going with the flow.

Im here to do whatever they need me to do, Russell said. I get paid to throw a baseball. Whenever they want me to throw it, Im ready.

Todd Helton was responsible for two of the three homers that Russell allowed. Helton launched a 78 mph slider into the right-field seats Russell described it as wind-aided and blasted an 80 mph changeup that landed on top of the batters eye in center.

Heltons been doing it for a long time, Russell said. More often than not, hes going to get you.

Russell has allowed six home runs in his past two starts, a stretch of eight innings at Wrigley Field. The total damage from his three starts: 13 runs on 19 hits in 9.2 innings.

The Cubs (10-13) will send the 23-year-old Coleman (7.43 ERA) to the mound on Wednesday afternoon to avoid the sweep against the first-place Rockies (16-7). Theyll be hoping for good news by then.

Cashner (rotator cuff strain) and Randy Wells (forearm strain) will have been re-evaluated by the teams medical staff and should have a better idea when they can start throwing off the mound and thinking about bullpen sessions.

The two right-handers have been playing long toss. There is only a general feeling that Wells will come off the disabled list before Cashner, though the Cubs are not setting a timetable.

The Cubs will charter to Phoenix on Wednesday night. This upcoming series against the Arizona Diamondbacks will allow them to check on two veteran pitchers building up strength in Mesa.

Todd Wellemeyer who may have already been in the rotation if not for the hip injury that derailed his spring training continues to make progress. Doug Davis who agreed to a minor-league deal two weeks ago is also working out at the complex but will still need to pitch at an affiliate first.

Whoever joins the rotation will need more help. Alfonso Soriano who homered in the ninth inning put it simply: We got to score more runs.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Nick Castellanos leaves and the Cubs tough off-season continues

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Nick Castellanos leaves and the Cubs tough off-season continues

The long off-season for the Cubs continues as they haven't made any significant moves so far and have watched players from last year's roster move on. Host David Kaplan is joined by NBC Sports Chicago producers Jeff Nelson and Nate Poppen as they discuss the lack luster off-season, expectations fans should have, Kaplan gives an exclusive update on the Kris Bryant grievance and the chances that the NL adopts the designated hitter.

(1:21) - Cubs have done nothing but watch players leave this off-season

(5:49) - The current roster is still pretty good

(8:55) - Kaplan gives exclusive update on Kris Bryant grievance

(11:12) - The Cubs still have a chance to win the division

(13:56) - What should Cubs fans expect this season

(16:12) - How does the designated hitter in the NL in 2021 effect the Cubs?

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

Cubs Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

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Cubs looking to unearth core relievers with low-cost, high-upside acquisitions

Cubs looking to unearth core relievers with low-cost, high-upside acquisitions

The Cubs bullpen is going to look a whole lot different this season.

Gone are the reliable Steve Cishek (signed with White Sox) and Brandon Kintzler (reportedly signed with Marlins). Pedro Strop remains a free agent, though a recent report said the race to sign him is down to the Marlins and Rangers.

Assuming Strop doesn’t return, the Cubs will have lost three of their four most frequently used relievers from 2019. Replacing the trio will be no small task, considering a bulk of their appearances came in late-inning, high-leverage spots.

Cishek and Kintzler didn’t sign back-breaking deals (one-year, $6 million; reported one-year, $3.25 million), but the luxury tax has been a factor in the Cubs offseason. They aren’t in a position to commit big money to top-of-the-market arms and have instead been stockpiling low-cost relievers with upside.

“It’s become such an unbelievably important and difficult part of our job,” general manager Jed Hoyer said at Cubs Convention of assembling a bullpen. “It wasn’t that long ago that we’d go into a season and our goal would be ‘Hey, can we get a thousand innings out of our starting pitching staff?’ You think about your five starters, if you could get some combination of close to a thousand innings, that was always a goal, out of roughly 1,400 innings.

“And now, that’s gone away. You realize to get through a season, it's not a matter of going up on a whiteboard and writing up your eight relievers. It's a matter of [needing] 15, 20, 25 good relievers over the course of the summer to really get through it.

"You've got to take a lot of chances. There's no more volatile aspect of the game than the bullpen, and that's league wide. You’ve got to constantly take chances on guys and realize that sometimes, what appears to be a guy that’s struggling may just be simply a bad seven innings or bad 10 innings.”

Volatility was a main theme of the Cubs bullpen in 2019. Strop is one of the best relievers in team history, but early season hamstring injuries impacted his performance — a 4.97 ERA and 1.27 WHIP were the worst figures of his Cubs career. Strop finished the season strong (2.00 ERA in September), though he was largely a low-leverage option by season’s end.

Meanwhile, the additions of Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick last offseason didn’t make waves among the fanbase. The former signed a major league deal after a solid 2018 season with Triple-A Iowa, and the Cubs acquired the latter in a low-key November trade. Both emerged as key contributors in 2019.

“Rowan Wick was a good example,” Hoyer said. “When we traded for him and we got him into the pitch lab and we improved his curveball, I think that had an enormous impact on his year last year. Brad Wieck, we traded for and immediately made some adjustments. Our pro scouting staff does a good job with that.”

Ryan and Wick are two of only three locks for the Opening Day bullpen, along with closer Craig Kimbrel. Wieck, acquired at the trade deadline for Carl Edwards Jr., is potentially another. That leaves five, maybe four spots up for grabs in what will be an open competition in spring training. Incumbent options include:

-Adbert Alzolay
-Tyler Chatwood
-Alec Mills
-Colin Rea
-Wieck
-Dillon Maples
-Duane Underwood Jr.
-James Norwood
-Brandon Morrow (reportedly re-signed on a minor-league deal)

Morrow and Chatwood are the most tenured options of the group, though the former has battled injuries throughout his career and hasn’t pitched since July 2018. If he’s healthy (and pitches well in spring training) Morrow will likely claim a bullpen job.

Chatwood is a candidate for the final rotation spot, along with Alzolay, Mills and (potentially) Rea. Mills and Underwood are out of minor-league options. New reliever candidates include:

-Dan Winkler — signed to one-year, split deal
-CD Pelham — claimed off waivers from Rangers
-Trevor Megill — Rule 5 pick (Padres)
-Ryan Tepera — signed to one-year, split deal
-Casey Sadler — acquired from Dodgers
-Travis Lakins — acquired from Red Sox
-Jeremy Jeffress — reportedly signed to a one-year, big-league deal

Winkler, 29, spent the previous five seasons bouncing between the major and minor leagues with the Braves. Last season, he posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 MLB appearances and a 2.93 ERA in the minors (30 appearances). He made 69 big-league appearances in 2018, sporting a 3.43 ERA in 60 1/3 innings while tallying 69 strikeouts.

Winkler isn’t a flamethrower — his four-seam fastball averaged 92.1 mph last season — but it ranked in MLB’s 93rd percentile, meaning he generates swings and misses. Sadler ranked in the 90th percentile and posted a 2.14 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 33 games. The 29-year-old struck out 31 batters in 46 1/3 innings between the Dodgers and Rays, though he sported a whopping 12.3 K/9 in Triple-A (38 2/3 innings).

Pelham, 24, was recently outrighted off the 40-man roster and sent to Iowa. He didn’t pitch in the big leagues in 2019 and struggled with command in Triple-A (18.3 walk rate) but throws hard. Megill, 26, throws a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and sported a 12.7 K/9 in Triple-A last season.

Worth noting: Pelham (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) and Megill (6-foot-8, 235 pounds) are big dudes.

Tepera holds a career 3.64 ERA and 1.16 WHIP and made 73 and 68 appearances in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The 32-year-old missed a chunk of 2019 with a right elbow impingement, finishing with a 4.98 ERA in 23 games.

Lakins, 25, is a former sixth-round pick who posted a 3.86 ERA in 23 1/3 last season and holds a 4.45 ERA in parts of five minor-league seasons. His curveball ranked 66th in spin rate league-wide among pitchers who threw at least 50 last season.

Jeffress reportedly agreed to a one-year deal Tuesday worth close to $1 million. He’s coming off a rough 2019 with the Brewers in which he sported a 5.02 ERA, dealing with a shoulder injury out of the gate. The 32-year-old also hurt his hip in August and was released on Sept. 1.

Jeffress is a season removed from posting a 1.29 ERA and 15 saves in 73 appearances. He’s another example of the budget-driven moves the Cubs have made this winter, and while he struggled in 2019, his career 3.16 ERA makes him a prime bounce back candidate.

There’s a lot of positives in the group, and the Cubs will use their pitch lab to make any necessary adjustments. They also realize not every guy will be as successful as Ryan or Wick, and some options won’t pan out. Their goal is to unearth as many contributors as they can.

"That's the kind of shot we have to take, and that's the kind of shot every team has to take on capturing that lightning in a bottle,” Hoyer said. “Buying really high on relievers and signing them after they have a breakout year is really expensive and really difficult and doesn't have a great success rate. We try to find those guys that we can catch lightning in a bottle, and that's been a big part of our strategy." 

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