Once-considered a fan favorite with his long hair and beard, left-hander James Russell is now back with the Chicago Cubs – even donning the same number – as the club seeks to address its bullpen shortcomings that have recently become a major concern.
In one 19-inning stretch this week, the Cubs’ pen allowed 17 runs – and with Chicago fresh out of a four-game losing streak, including two-straight at the hands of the red-hot Cardinals, hopes are fading fast with many fans, who are ready to write this team off after a solid first month of play.
Out of the gates, the Chicago bullpen was one of the best in the entire National League – but things haven’t been the same since the calendar turned to May. Following Thursday’s series finale loss to St. Louis, the Cubs have a team ERA of an even 4.00.
Phil Coke and Pedro Strop have been the biggest disappointments early-on, posting earned run averages of 5.19 and 4.38, respectively. Edwin Jackson, meanwhile has been lights-out all season-long out of the pen for Joe Maddon, as has closer Hector Rondon, who has half-a-dozen saves in a dozen appearances.
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As noted, Coke – a lefty – has struggled in his first month as a Cub, appearing in 14 games totaling 8 2/3 innings of work. Opponents are averaging more than 13 hits per nine innings Coke tosses – a troubling sign for the veteran. Fellow southpaw Zac Rosscup has been dominant in his age 27 season, pitching to a 2.39 FIP in just over 10 frames of work, but adding Russell to the mix won’t hurt anything moving forward.
In his career, Russell has limited left-handed opponents to a .244/.282/.411 line, which is far from dominant, but still definitely an asset. This season with the Iowa Cubs, the southpaw appeared in seven games and did not allow a run in his nine-plus innings of work, prompting his promotion to Chicago earlier this week.
Russell was traded to Atlanta along with speedster Emilio Bonifacio last summer in exchange for prospect Victor Caratini. Between Chicago and Atlanta, he pitched to a 2.97 earned run in 66 appearances, adding yet-another solid year to his resume. However, after struggling this spring, the Braves released the southpaw – who soon after came back to the organization that originally drafted him back in 2007.