The Cubs could use another left-handed reliever to compliment James Russell.
Jeff Beliveau, who was an up & comer, became a casualty of the Cubs freeing up their 40-man roster last week when he was claimed off waivers by the Rangers.
Southpaws Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin made their MLB debuts as starters last year, and so far there’s no indication either will transition to the bullpen for the upcoming season.
That leaves Travis Wood as the lone remaining left-hander on the roster, which should give him a slight edge in making the rotation vs. pitching out of the bullpen.
Additionally, the free agent market for lefty relief arms is slim pickings. Of the eight remaining lefties still available here are three I think the Cubs should take look at:
- JP Howell, 29, tops the list and the Cubs have already been linked to him. He missed all of 2010 due to shoulder surgery, had a horrible 2011 season and then rebounded nicely in 2012 wrapping up his fifth season in Tampa Bay. The tough part is there’s plenty of competition for Howell, including the Nationals, Rangers and Phillies. So if the Cubs want him they’ll probably have to come with the dollars and a multi-year offer.
- Mike Gonzalez, 34, is coming off a decent campaign in Washington. He spent the previous two seasons in the AL with Baltimore and Texas posting an ERA above 4.00. He’s also pitched in the postseason the past two years with moderate success and could be another flipable trade piece for the Cubs in July. Like Howell, however, Gonzalez’s services are also being sought after by contending teams such as the Nationals and Reds.
- Rafael Perez, 30, suffered through a nagging shoulder injury in 2012 that limited him to just 7.2 innings. Previously though he was one of the best lefty relievers in baseball with Cleveland. He’s no longer dominate as he was in his earlier years, but Perez is still a tough match vs. left-handed batters and could provide Russell enough of a breather to make him valuable.
-James Russell: (7-1, 3.25). Easily the most reliable arm in the bullpen. The 26-year-old southpaw allowed just 5 HR in nearly 70 innings pitched (69.1) and was second in strikeouts (55) only to Carlos Marmol’s 72 and games (77) to Shawn Camp’s league leading 80-appearances.
He set career-highs in appearances (77), innings pitched (69.1), strikeouts (55), home runs allowed (5) and hit batters (1). His ERA+ was a solid 21-points above the league average.
Russell is one of the few, if only, bright spots for the Cubs’ bullpen heading into 2013. It took Sean Marshall a few seasons to become one of the best left-handed relievers in the National League, and Russell appears to be headed down the same path entering his fourth season.
Honorable mentions: Shawn Camp (3-6, 3.59) league-leading 80-appearances, led Cubs relievers in innings pitched (77.2), third in strikeouts (54) and WHIP (1.29). Michael Bowden (0-0, 2.95) fourth in strikeouts (29) second in WHIP (1.25).
Many pitchers experience a dead-arm period twice per year. It happens most often during spring training and then typically late in the season.
I’ve been thinking James Russell might be suffering through a dead-arm spat, especially after the 26-year-old lefty was slapped around by the Reds at Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon.
On in relief of Travis Wood, Russell squandered a 2-1 lead by allowing three earned-runs on five hits, none of which were of the cheap variety.
The Reds tattooed Russell with three doubles and two singles. And had it not been for an inexplicable, bone-headed base running mistake by Ryan Ludwick (doubled up at second base on a routine fly out to Soriano) the damage most likely would’ve been worse.
WOULD THE REAL JAMES RUSSELL PLEASE STAND UP
Entering Monday’s game against Houston, Russell had allowed four runs on eight hits over his last three outings–a far cry from the pitcher who had held the opponent scoreless in 42 of his previous 54 appearances.
Russell fared far better Monday in his one inning of work retiring three Houston batters in order. Tyler Greene, however, nearly took Russell yard missing a HR by just a few feet in left center field–Brett Jackson caught the ball with his back at the ivy.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE?
If it’s not dead-arm syndrome Russell is battling it may be the heavy workload that’s catching up with him.
He’s easily on course to surpass his career totals in appearances and innings pitched–and there’s still eight weeks left in the season.
His recent struggles, however, shouldn’t diminish what’s been a very successful campaign to date. Russell (5-1, 3.52 ERA) has been a rock in Dale Sveum’s bullpen, and all signs continue to show he’ll become even better down the road.
That said, I’ll remain very interested to see how Russell performs in the season’s final weeks. He hasn’t pitched like his usual self lately and I’m suspicious something’s up.
I’ve got my fingers crossed it’s nothing more than, perhaps, a dead-arm period or natural fatigue setting in during the dog days of August.
Below are a few photos I snapped at Wrigley Field during Wednesday’s game, including the Cubs celebration of Darwin Barney’s thrilling walk-off home run!
You can see more of my Cubs pictures by following me (BullpenBrian) on Instagram & Twitter @bullpenbrian
Three wins in a row. How Sweep it is…
You can’t fault James Russell for his brutal starts.
He’s simply doing what he shouldn’t have to…making the tough transitioning from the bullpen to the rotation–mid-season.
I give the kid all the credit in the world for stepping up to the challenge. Despite the awful outcomes through two starts–8 ER in 5.2 IP–he’s handled the situation with poise…handled the situation like a true pro. That, in its self, is a credit to his character.
After working his butt off last year to make the Cubs’ bullpen, he then worked his tail off again this spring to come back as a reliever. Now, by necessity, he’s pitching where he doesn’t belong–in the rotation.
The man he’s replacing, Andrew Cashner, is weeks away from a return (if there is one) from shoulder problems. Russell isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the long-term answer.
Putting this kid through another start isn’t fair to him or the Cubs. Quade may have limited options, dare I say Samardzija, but there needs to be a better fix.
The last thing Russell needs is a confidence problem, and running him out to the mound every fifth day is sure to take its toll on him mentally. Russell belongs in the pen, and that’s not his problem. That, my friends, is one for Jim Hendry to figure out–and fast.