I understand that the alternatives are as appealing as the selection of women at closing time at the neighborhood dive, but I wish the Cubs would pull the plug on the James Russell-in-the-starting-rotation experiment.
After Russell's poor showing in his second start against San Diego on April 20, manager Mike Quade acknowledged that Russell was better suited for his previous role as a situational lefty. The 25-year-old Russell did nothing to dispel his skipper's opinion on Tuesday night against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field, lasting just four-plus innings, allowing three home runs, and walking three.
Every Russell start guarantees that the Cubs will be forced to use a long parade of relievers - they used four Tuesday. It's asking too much of a bullpen that has also been strained by the inconsistencies of the other four current starters - Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza, and Casey Coleman. The Cubs' rotation is just 5-10 and ranks last in the majors with an awful 5.91 ERA.
According to Gordon Wittenmyer in Wednesday's Chicago Sun-Times, injured starters Randy Wells (strained forearm) and Andrew Cashner (strained rotator cuff) each played catch before Tuesday's game and were scheduled to be examined by the team doctor Wednesday. Both pitchers, Wittenmyer reported, are still weeks away from returning. Wells is ahead of Cashner, but the best case scenario has Wells returning to action in mid-May.
With off days scheduled May 5 and May 9, and with Wells hopefully returning for the San Francisco series, May 13-15, the Cubs will need just one more start from the slot currently occupied by Russell - Monday in the opener of a three-game series at Los Angeles.
Some of the alternatives include:
* Jay Jackson, a 23-year-old right-handed Triple-A prospect, was shut down during spring training with elbow tendinitis, and has pitched well in two starts at Iowa since returning to action. Jackson allowed one run in 6 2/3 solid innings Tuesday and would be poised to start against the Dodgers on Monday after five days of rest.
* Jeff Samardzija (2-0, 3-14 ERA in 9 appearances) has tossed nine straight scoreless innings, but the right-hander is not stretched out. A Samardzija start would guarantee another "parade of relievers" game.
* Todd Wellemeyer performed well in spring training, but his bid for an Opening Day roster spot was derailed by a hip injury. Wittenmyer reported that the 32-year-old Wellenmeyer is still a week away from game action at Triple-A Iowa.
* Ramon Ortiz, a 38-year-old right-hander, is 0-1 with a 4.02 ERA in three starts at Iowa. Ortiz has allowed eight runs - seven earned - on 17 hits in 15 2/3 innings while striking out 16 and walking five. Ortiz, who is 85-82 in 10 big league seasons, was 1-2 with a 6.30 ERA in 16 appearances with the Dodgers last year. His stint with Los Angeles was his first taste of major league action since 2007.
* Soft-tossing left-hander Doug Davis was signed to a minor-league contract last month and was sent to extended spring training in Mesa, Ariz. The 35-year-old Davis lost four of five decisions in eight starts with Milwaukee last season and posted a dreadful 7.51 ERA. Davis has 91 wins in 12 major league seasons, but it's difficult to fathom him being successful at this stage in his career. Among them, Davis would be deprived the luxury of facing one of his biggest patsies. He has nine career victories against the Cubs - the second most (he's beaten San Diego 10 times) against the 29 major league opponents he has faced.
* Six-year minor league veteran right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who turns 26 Friday, has been mentioned as an alternative,but he's been hit hard at Iowa in spite of an impressive strikeout total so far this season. Bibens-Dirkx has struck out 22 and walked just four in 19 innings. But he's allowed 14 runs - all earned - on 19 hits, including five home runs. No thanks.
* God help us if the Cubs turn to Thomas Diamond who is 0-2 with a ghastly 9.92 ERA in four starts at Iowa. The 28-year-old right-hander has been battered for 19 runs - 18 earned - on 24 hits (including 6 homers) in 16 1/3 innings while striking out 17 and walking 11.
Get well soon, Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner. Please!