Tagged: James Russell

7/12 Theo: “There’s a lot of chatter”

With the Trade Deadline on July 31, Theo Epstein is getting plenty of phone calls from teams interested in Cubs players. Matt Garza is high on some team’s lists, as well as relievers Kevin Gregg and James Russell and outfielder Nate Schierholtz.

Garza is considered the best starting pitcher on the market.

“Obviously, he’s throwing extremely well and he’s very healthy and there are teams out there looking for pitching who are going to call and try to acquire him,” Epstein said Friday. “For us, he’s helping us win games now, there’s a chance to possibly retain him beyond this year, so we’ll just balance all that out and do what’s best for the organization.”

It is a busy time of the season.

“There’s a lot of chatter going on right now,” Epstein said. “I wouldn’t say anything major is imminent. There’s a lot of talk, and we’ll continue to stay abreast with what other teams are trying to do as their situation changes.”

This is the second year the Cubs have been sellers. That’s not a position Epstein wants to be in.

“We wanted to be buyers this year,” he said. “With a few breaks, this year, we could’ve been in a much different situation. If some one-run games early change, and different bullpen situations [it could’ve been different]. The goal every year is to be in a position where you’re looking to add and have a strong pennant push.”

— Carrie Muskat

5/15 Rizzo on hair, Theo & Jed, & more

Anthony Rizzo appeared on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk” and revealed that he had to borrow a belt, that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are his “step parents,” and he’s jealous of Jeff Samardzija’s hair. During the interview with Kevin Millar and Chris Rose, Rizzo was asked for his first response when told the Cubs wanted to give him a long term contract.

“[I said] ‘Where do I sign?'” Rizzo said.

He did sign a seven-year, $41 million deal on Monday but apparently had to borrow a belt from teammate Ryan Sweeney for the news conference.

Epstein, Hoyer and Jason McLeod, the scouting and player development director, first selected Rizzo in the 2007 Draft. Then Hoyer traded for him when he and McLeod went to the Padres. Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod were reunited on the Cubs, and traded for Rizzo again. Does the first baseman have a man crush on Epstein and Hoyer?

“Those are my step parents, to be honest, Jed, Theo and Jason,” Rizzo said. “They brought me along on their ride. I think I have a crush on them more now.”

Millar and Rose wanted to know who has the best hair on the Cubs. Rizzo said it’s not him.

“[Samardzija] and [James] Russell have the best hair on the team so far,” Rizzo said.

He may like the locks, but during a quick Q&A, Rizzo couldn’t spell Samardzija’s name.

— Carrie Muskat

5/8 Cardinals 5, Cubs 4

Another day, another close game for the Cubs.

“Another one-run game — it [stinks],” Carlos Villanueva said. “We’re close, right there.”

Carlos Beltran hit a pair of RBI singles and Jon Jay drove in two runs, including a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth, to lift the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory on Wednesday over the Cubs, who hit into four double plays, and split the two-game series.

The Cubs now have had 28 of their 34 games decided by three runs or fewer, and the team is 10-18 in those games. Chicago is 5-8 in one-run games.

“It kind of speaks well for our team,” James Russell said of the tight games. “We don’t give up and we’re always in the game. If breaks fall our way, then we win a lot more games then we have right now.”

The loss wasted the fifth quality start by Villanueva. This was the 21st quality start by a Cubs pitcher, and they have compiled a 2.01 ERA but have won only eight of the games. Only the Cardinals (24) and Phillies (22) have more quality starts, and St. Louis has 15 wins and Philadelphia has 11.

“[Villanueva] did a nice job and got out of some jams and made the pitches when he had to,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “He got the outs when he had to and left it up to [Russell] who has been the most reliable guy for two years to get a left-hander out.”

Russell ran into trouble in the seventh. St. Louis trailed 4-3 when Matt Carpenter doubled off Russell and reached third on an error by Nate Schierholtz, who had trouble picking up Carpenter’s ball. Then Beltran delivered the game-tying RBI single.

“If I make a better pitch to Carpenter, I’m not in that situation,” Russell said. “I hung a curveball to him and he hit my mistake and that’s what good hitters do. He made me pay for it.”

Beltran’s hit snapped Russell’s season-opening scoreless streak at 13 innings, spanning 17 games.

“For some reason, the lefties they have over there, they hit left-handers pretty well,” Russell said of the Cardinals. “I’ve just got to find some different things to do against them.

“You’ll have those days when broken bat hits fall in and you’ll have days when guys will smoke balls and they’re hit right at somebody,” he said. “Right now, I was on the other end of it, but it is what it is.”

In the St. Louis eighth against Michael Bowden, Yadier Molina singled and moved up on a wild pitch before scoring on Jay’s single to center. Chicago now has lost 10 games in which it had a lead, tied with the Diamondbacks for the most in the National League.

The Cubs seem to have their starting pitching figured out and have settled on Kevin Gregg as the closer. It’s those middle innings that are a little tricky.

“We just can’t seem to shut anybody down in that sixth, seventh inning right now,” Sveum said. “We’re getting two strikes on people. We just can’t make a pitch when we have to.”

— Carrie Muskat

4/7 What to do with Marmol

Last May, Cubs manager Dale Sveum removed Carlos Marmol as the closer, and used James Russell and Rafael Dolis. The Cubs didn’t have that many save opportunities, and Marmol then went on the disabled list May 12 with a strained hamstring. He was reinstated as the closer when he returned in late May but the Cubs told Marmol he could not shake off his catcher. It seemed to work. After compiling a 5.61 ERA in 31 games before the All-Star break last year, Marmol had a 1.52 ERA in 30 games in the second half.

In his three appearances this season, it’s been a struggle for Marmol. He’s retired four of the 13 batters he’s faced in three games. Teams are batting .600 against him, and he’s given up five runs on six hits in 10 at-bats, including the two home runs. Right-handed hitters are 5-for-5 with two walks. Marmol also has shown a pattern that scouts are probably picking up. He throws first-pitch fastballs to batters 80 percent of the time, and when he’s ahead in the count, he’ll go to his slider 75 percent of the time. If he has two strikes, he’ll also throw his slider 90.9 percent.

What are Sveum’s options? Shawn Camp is 12-for-28 in his career in save situations. He had two saves in 2012, his last one coming Aug. 26 against the Rockies in a 5-0 win.
Russell is 2-for-9 in career save opportunities, picking up both last season. He was 0-2 in save situations in 2010 and again in 2011.

By the way, this is the last year of Marmol’s three-year, $20 million contract that will pay him $9.8 million this season.

* About last night: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Justin and B.J. Upton are the first brothers in Major League history to hit a game-tying and walk-off home run in the same inning. The two brothers connected off Marmol in the ninth to give the Braves a 6-5 win over the Cubs. The Uptons are the first brothers to hit a home run in the same inning since Cal and Billy Ripken did so in 1996 with the Orioles.

“That’s what you dream about — to be on the field and have that big at-bat and to come through for your team,” Justin said. “You can’t beat that.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/18 Samardzija, Russell sign

The Cubs avoided going to arbitration with either Jeff Samardzija or James Russell, and reached new one-year agreements for both pitchers on Friday. Samardzija signed for $2.64 million with additional money in the deal in player bonuses, while Russell agreed to a $1.075 million deal. Friday was the deadline for arbitration eligible players and teams to exchange figures. If no agreement was reached, the two sides would have had a hearing sometime in February. Samardzija, who was 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA in his first full season as a starter, made $2.64 million last season, while Russell, who appeared in a career-high 77 games, made $512,500.

— Carrie Muskat

1/18 Arbitration deadline day

Today is the deadline for all MLB clubs to exchange salary figures with their arbitration eligible players. With Matt Garza getting a new deal late Thursday, the Cubs have two arb eligible players remaining: Jeff Samardzija and James Russell. The two sides can continue to negotiate after today, but if no agreement is reached, they will each present their case before an independent arbitrator sometime between Feb. 4-20. This is the first year Samardzija and Russell are arbitration eligible. Samardzija, who was 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA in his first full season as a starter, made $2.64 million last season, while Russell, who appeared in a career-high 77 games, made $512,500. Theo Epstein said this week he prefers to avoid an arbitration hearing.

— Carrie Muskat

1/17 Garza gets new deal

Cubs pitcher Matt Garza avoided arbitration and agreed to a new $10.25 million contract on Thursday. Garza’s representatives at CAA announced the new deal on Twitter: “#Cubs Matt Garza (@Gdeuceswild) agrees to a $10.25M contract to avoid salary arbitration.” Garza himself revealed the contract on his Twitter account: “Business side over! Hooray! Time to focus on what really matters … 2013 #GoCubsGo.” The Cubs were expected to make a formal announcement on Friday.

Garza avoided arbitration last year, signing a one-year, $9.5 million contract with the Cubs. There had been some discussion regarding a long-term deal for the right-hander but that was tabled when he was limited to 18 starts because of a right elbow injury, which forced him to shut down after July 21.

Jeff Samardzija and James Russell were among the 133 Major League players who filed for salary arbitration on Tuesday. This is the first year Samardzija and Russell are arbitration eligible, while Garza is in his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent after this season. The two pitchers and the Cubs will exchange salary figures on Friday. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, there will be a hearing sometime between Feb. 1-21 in front of an independent arbitrator. Samardzija, who was 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA in his first full season as a starter, made $2.64 million last season, while Russell, who appeared in a career-high 77 games, made $512,500.

— Carrie Muskat

8/27 Good guys

Darwin Barney, Bryan LaHair, James Russell and Jeff Samardzija will help about 50 children from the Cubs Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program have a fun time at Monday’s game. The kids will receive round-trip transportation to the game, meet the players, get free tickets, food and beverages, part of the Major League Baseball Players Trust’s “Buses for Baseball” program. The Players Trust is supported by the Cubs organization in providing a unique, up close and personal opportunity to share the thrill of Major League Baseball with those less fortunate. The Cubs RBI program has operated in the Chicago area since 2000 and reaches over 600 youth ages 5-18. It is designed to increase participation and interest in baseball, especially among minorities, and to increase the number of talented athletes prepared to play in college and the minor leagues.

— Carrie Muskat

8/13 Monday morning quarterback

When a Cubs player has a tough time, Dale Sveum often calls it a “hiccup.” This month has been one big hiccup. Getting caught up after a tough weekend vs. the Reds …

* What happened? After a winning July, the Cubs are 1-10 in August, and batting .199 this month with a .300 slugging percentage. They’re averaging 2.8 runs per game, and have been out-scored 55-31, out-hit 104-71, and out-homered 11-5.

The pitchers have posted a 5.01 ERA, and opponents were batting .277 against in the last 11 games. The starters are 0-8 with a 4.48 ERA with six quality starts (Dates: 8/4, 8/6, 8/8, 8/9, 8/11, 8/12), while the bullpen has a 6.21 ERA, giving up 20 earned runs over 29 innings. Teams are batting .346 against the Cubs bullpen this month.

* 3B Josh Vitters was expected to start two of the three games against this week the Astros. Dale Sveum says Vitters, who has made three starts, is a good fastball hitter, which should serve him well in the big leagues.

* What’s surprising about the offensive slump is that the players dealt at the Trade Deadline (Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, Geovany Soto) weren’t exactly forces in the Cubs lineup. Here are August numbers so far:

Anthony Rizzo .209 (9-for-43)
Darwin Barney .250 (10-for-40)
Starlin Castro .163 (7-for-43)
Steve Clevenger .143 (2-for-14)
David DeJesus .216 (8-for-37)
Brett Jackson .150 (3-for-20)
Alfonso Soriano .189 (7-for-37)
Bryan LaHair .176 (3-for-17)
Luis Valbuena .261 (6-for-23)

* August numbers for the bullpen …

Shawn Camp: 6 Gs, 8 ER, 4 2/3 IP, 15.43 ERA
Carlos Marmol: 4 Gs, 1 ER, 4 IP, 2.25 ERA
James Russell: 6 Gs, 3 ER, 5 IP, 5.40 ERA (.440 batting average against)

* On the plus side, congrats to Tim Wilken, who was director of amateur scouting and named a special assistant to GM Jed Hoyer.

* Keep an eye on: Double-A Tennessee first baseman Justin Bour now has 100 RBIs, and was batting .300. He’s batting .341 in August with four home runs and 15 RBIs. Bour is the first player in the Southern League to drive in 100 runs in a single season since 1999. Bour is the first player in the Cubs Minor League organization this year to reach 100 RBIs.

— Carrie Muskat 

7/8 First half MVP

Who’s your first half Most Valuable Player for the Cubs? Manager Dale Sveum picked relievers Shawn Camp and James Russell. Camp was 2-4 with a 2.86 ERA and one save, while Russell was 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA. Russell has a 2.30 ERA in 101 games since the start of 2011, the second-lowest mark by a National League left-hander.

“Those guys have been phenomenal in the first half,” Sveum said. “Without those two guys, we would’ve been in a lot of trouble. The combination of both of them has been tremendous. They’ve been consistent all season long. To have the numbers they have and handle the position they’ve been put in where they haven’t been put in in their careers speaks volumes for what they’ve done for this team this year.”

— Carrie Muskat