Russell Hoping to Build on Momentum

DES MOINES – Left-hander James Russell has enjoyed his excursion into Triple-A thus far with the Iowa Cubs but knows that things are not always going to be easy.

The Cubs selected the University of Texas alum with their 14th-round pick in the 2007 draft and by the start of 2008, Russell had moved into the starting rotation with Advanced Class-A Daytona.

He opened with a 2.30 ERA before getting called up to Double-A Tennessee, where he struggled in 86-plus innings before being sent back to Daytona to close the year.

Russell began 2009 back in Double-A and continued to struggle. Before moving up to Iowa, he had a 5.11 ERA with 45 hits allowed in 37 innings.

Russell was asked how he plans to avoid similar numbers at Triple-A.

"Keeping the ball down," Russell said. "I've been working on a two-seam [fastball] and that's helped me get ground balls."

Since being brought up to Iowa, Russell has a 2.03 ERA in 13-plus innings. Over that span, he has seven strikeouts and two walks, but has given up 17 hits for a .309 average against.

One thing that has helped Russell, though, is having command of his changeup, long considered his best pitch.

"It's just something I've always been able to throw and it works pretty well," he said.

Russell's curveball and fastball – two pitches that Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason agrees Russell needs to be effective – are also coming along for him.

"He's a long-man, middle (relief) lefty because he's new and we're trying to get him acclimated to Triple-A, which means he's going to have to probably use his fastball a little more than he's used to," Mason said.

"He's got a very good changeup and a very good curveball, but for him to make the step up into the major leagues, he's going to have to command his fastball a little bit better. He's on his way … His secondary stuff is pretty good."

Russell has seen his numbers (at least ERA-wise) improve as he's gone into the bullpen, and the role change is something he's been comfortable with as he tries to keep his spot on the Triple-A pitching staff.

"It's not bad," Russell said of pitching in relief. "I like starting, but whatever gets me there is going to be fine with me. I'm starting to like the bullpen."

Russell started Sunday's game against Memphis and pitched three scoreless innings, allowing three hits with one strikeout in a no-decision. Iowa won, 7-0.

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