Lefty Russell could be right fit in Cubs' rotation
Reliever eyes switch to be team's lone southpaw starter
MESA, Ariz. -- James Russell and Andrew Cashner made their annual pilgrimmage to El Paso, Texas, to buy new boots before getting to Arizona for Spring Training. They picked out some sweet ones. Now, the two pitchers are being fitted, so to speak, for new jobs with the Cubs.
It's a different spring for Russell, who could be the lone lefty in the Cubs' rotation if he makes the switch. Last year, he and Cashner were two of the rookies in the bullpen, but Russell had company from the left side in Sean Marshall and John Grabow, until he was injured. As far as Russell can tell, the only difference this spring is that he will probably throw more innings.
"I'm going to have to make the best of all of my pitches," he said Tuesday. "If I'm going to last, I have to get my pitch count down and make quality pitches all the time. You have to do the same thing if you're in the bullpen. You've got to make quality pitches and go out and hit your spots."
He has four to chose from -- a slider, changeup, fastball, and curve. Did he show all of those last year?
"Last year, I didn't get to throw my changeup a whole lot because I was coming in and facing lefties," he said. "I like throwing lefty-lefty changeups, but I didn't make it too big of a habit."
Cashner also will be stretched out this spring to fill one of the rotation spots. He and Russell are close.
"We're going to push each other," Russell said. "He'll get the best out of me and I'll get the best out of him, and if not, we'll slap each other around."
If starting doesn't work, Russell will likely be back in the bullpen.
"We're dumb enough to where it doesn't even bother us," he said. "We don't get fazed by too much. I don't know if it's our age or what. We're young and dumb and ready to go throw strikes."
Healthy Looper grateful for shot with Cubs
MESA, Ariz. -- Braden Looper told his wife he might be done pitching in the big leagues. He was prepared to retire after taking the 2010 season off. But Looper is in the Cubs' camp now, and battling for a spot on the pitching staff. And he's excited about it.
"I've had different phases of a career," Looper said Tuesday. "First, you're happy to be there. Then I was closing, won a couple World Series, then I started starting. When I started starting, I felt like I could enjoy the game more. I was able to sit back and watch it some and prepare for the games.
"Now, I feel I enjoy being here more than I normally would," he said. "I missed it. You miss hanging out with the guys, you miss a lot of things, you miss the competitive aspect of it. I think I've gone through these phases and I appreciate it more."
In 2009, he went 14-7 in 34 starts with the Brewers. He has pitched for the Cardinals, Marlins, Mets and Brewers, and now is a candidate for the Cubs' rotation. He told his agent the Cubs were the only team he would consider because he didn't want to uproot his family any more. They now live in the Chicago area and he has three children, ages 10, 8 and 3.
"I love baseball and it's important, but my family is more important," Looper said. "It had to be the right situation for me and my family."
Last summer, he did throw for the Cubs and was offered a spot on the Triple-A Iowa team. But Looper said that didn't feel right.
In 2009, he didn't feel right on the mound, either, as he battled a knee injury on his drive leg. He gutted it out but had to deal with pain with every pitch. Now, he's healthy, and reunited with pitching coach Mark Riggins, whom he knew in the Cardinals organization.
"Sometimes I think guys leave and you're just not sure [if you're done playing]," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "It's something lingering -- 'Gee, I wonder.' He'll get a chance to find out and he'll get a chance to do it with a club in his hometown. I think it's a great situation."
Cubs acquire righty Coello from Red Sox
The Cubs acquired right-handed pitcher Robert Coello from the Red Sox on Tuesday for Minor League infielder Tony Thomas.
The 26-year-old Coello, who split the 2010 season between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket before being promoted to the Red Sox on Sept. 5, had been designated for assignment on Feb. 9 to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Alfredo Aceves.
The right-hander combined to go 7-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 32 Minor League appearances, 13 as a starter, and led the Red Sox farm system with 130 strikeouts. He also held opposing hitters to a .209 batting average.
An imposing figure at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Coello made his MLB debut one day after arriving, surrendering three runs in one-third of an inning against the Rays, but finished the season with five consecutive scoreless outings, covering 5 1/3 innings.
Big league hitters batted .190 against him.
A native of Bayonne, N.J., Coello was originally selected by the Reds as a catcher in the 20th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. He signed with the Angels as a Minor League free agent and was converted to a pitcher prior to the 2007 season, and joined the Red Sox organization prior to the '09 campaign. In 86 Minor League appearances, 13 as a starter, Coello has a 13-10 record with three saves and a 2.91 ERA.
Thomas, 24, batted .276 (111-for-402) with 29 doubles, 11 triples and 11 home runs in 116 games with Double-A Tennessee last season. He was originally selected by the Cubs in the third round of the 2007 Draft.
Tyler Colvin and Brad Snyder both got some work in at first base on Tuesday. Colvin will see some action there in Cactus League games. The Cubs want to see if he can backup Carlos Pena. ... Fernando Perez, Augie Ojeda, Darwin Barney, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Blake DeWitt and Reed Johnson were among the other position players working out at Fitch Park. Position players don't have to report until Friday. ... A motorist driving down Center Street near the Cubs' complex was surprised when a baseball struck his windshield. Apparently, Jackson put a good swing on a pitch during batting practice. ... The Cubs could leave camp with three left-handers in the bullpen, and possibly four. They also could have four right-handed starters if James Russell doesn't make the rotation. ... With coach Matt Sinatro gone, manager Mike Quade will work with the catchers this season. Quade did that in the Minor Leagues. ... Ivan DeJesus said he had a good week with shortstop Starlin Castro in the Dominican Republic this offseason. They stressed throwing mechanics. Minor League infield coordinator Franklin Font also spent a week with Castro in the Dominican.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. Jim Street contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.