Folks: teach your children to throw with their left hand.
James Russell was a moderately successful minor league starter for a few years before breaking through last Spring Training as a reliever. In that role, he also found moderate success.
But he throws left-handed, and, because the Chicago Cubs don’t have another lefty option for the rotation, Russell is going to get a very real shot to bump a (possibly more deserving) righty out of the back-end of the Cubs’ rotation.
“I’m just working on fine-tuning my pitches now,” Russell said. “I’m working hard on my changeup because I will be using that a lot versus righties. I’m also trying to spot my slider on both sides of the plate and to fine-tune my curveball.”
The wide assortment of pitches will be necessary to move past the other five pitchers hoping to make the staff. All five of the other candidates are right-handed.
“That’s a big positive for me,” Russell said. “All teams want to have a lefty on their starting staff somewhere. I’m going to bust my butt and try to be that one lefty on ours.”
Of course the best scenario for Russell is winning the fifth spot outright. But if he makes progress and the Cubs decide to go with a veteran to start the season, he may have to pitch as a starter in the minor leagues.
“If that happens so be it,” Russell said. “I’ll just go there and beat the hell out of some Triple-A guys as I’m working my way back up to Chicago.” ESPN Chicago.
First things first: what an awesome attitude. A number of current and former Cubs could learn a thing or two from Russell, and reading quotes like this, it’s somewhat easier to understand why he was on an aggressive promotion schedule despite, as I said, only a modicum of success.
Secondly, it’s clear that the Cubs are going to give Russell every opportunity to win a rotation spot. You don’t convert a life-long starter into a reliever so that you can make room for him on the roster only to convert him back into a starter for the entirety of Spring Training (thus jacking up his adjustment to relieving) unless you really, really hope he makes it as a starter (much of this could be said for Andrew Cashner, of course).
If he doesn’t make the rotation, Russell’s just as likely to continue starting at AAA as he is to head to a very crowded bullpen (which might already have as many as three lefties in Sean Marshall, John Grabow, and Scott Maine) – Mike Quade has said that the decision about what to do with Russell if he doesn’t make the big league rotation will be a tough one, made not only by Quade but also by organizational guys. That, you’ll note, suggests either that Quade isn’t sold on Russell as a reliever – otherwise, he’d say “well sure, if he doesn’t make the rotation, he’ll be in my bullpen” – or that Quade has already been told by the organizational guys that they want Russell to be a starter regardless of where he’s starting.
Whatever the outcome, the Cubs aren’t just seeing what Russell can do. They very much hope he grabs a rotation spot – so don’t be surprised if he does just that, even if his Spring performance isn’t quite as impressive as some others.