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Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Hope looms, but Cubs' pen causes pain now

By Joe Stiglich
Special to ESPNChicago.com

OAKLAND, Calif. -- There is no doubt that the Chicago Cubs' focus is on the future, but it doesn’t make the heartbreak of the present any easier to stomach.

Manager Dale Sveum didn’t hold back Tuesday night after watching his bullpen blow yet another lead in an 8-7 loss to the Oakland Athletics to begin a three-game series at O.co Coliseum.

Armed with a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the eighth, lefty James Russell served up a three-run homer to A’s catcher Derek Norris to sink the Cubs (35-46). Earlier in the day, the Cubs traded starting pitcher Scott Feldman, and they are likely to ship out more veterans before the July 31 trade deadline.

Russell (1-2) now has six blown saves this season, and Chicago’s bullpen has converted just 18 of 35 save opportunities overall on the season.

“He can't get really nothing down in the strike zone,” Sveum said of Russell. “His changeup's either short or hung, and he can't spot a fastball down and away. Basically, it's just no location. The confidence probably isn't too good right now.

“It's almost comical to see this happen every single night. We have a lead, and we’re getting beat by guys that sometimes hardly [hit] home runs.”

Norris’ batting average stood at .199 as he dug in against Russell, and the A’s second-year catcher has struggled so much offensively that he has lost playing time recently. But hitters have a way of getting healthy against the Cubs’ relief corps.

“I’ve just gotta get the ball down, it’s that simple,” Russell said. “It’s not that difficult. Just that one thing, get the ball down, and that won’t happen.”

Alfonso Soriano has found his offensive groove on this nine-game road trip, so much so that you wonder if trade interest starts to accelerate regarding the 37-year-old slugger.

Soriano, who has was a DH some on this trip but played left field Tuesday, is 10-for-27 with three homers, four doubles and eight RBIs over his past six games.

Soriano is still owed approximately $27 million on a $136 million contract that expires after next season, so finding a trade partner won’t be easy unless Chicago is willing to eat a significant portion of his salary. But Soriano is heating up at the right time.

He says he continues to try to focus only on his play.

“It’s part of the game, you know,” Soriano said. “The front office, they know what they’re doing, so I just try to do my job. Let the front office take care of the business, and I’ll try to take care of the business on the field. They’ll do the best for the organization.”

Soriano is hitting .257 with just 10 homers and 38 RBI in 76 games.

• Lefty Chris Rusin gave up three runs in just 3⅓ innings in his first big league start of the season, but that was partly because he was pitching on three days’ rest. Rusin allowed a two-run homer to Josh Donaldson and a solo shot to Chris Young on pitches that he left up in the strike zone.

“He did OK,” Sveum said. “Short rest. A couple of home runs, but other than that, OK.”

With the trade of Feldman, the Cubs have a hole in their rotation. His turn comes up two more times before the All-Star break, at which point Sveum hopes that reliever Carlos Villanueva might be ready to join the rotation. Until then, it figures that Rusin might get another start or two to show what he has.


• This series marks a homecoming for right fielder Nate Schierholtz, who grew up in nearby Danville, Calif.

Schierholtz’s friend, John Rodrigues, owns two A’s season tickets right behind home plate. Schierholtz sat in the seats last season for one of Oakland’s American League Divisional Series games against the Detroit Tigers.