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Helton belts 2 as Cubs drop 3rd in row

Today

Rockies at Cubs 1:20 p.m., CSN, 720-AM

Casey Coleman (1-1, 7.43) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (3-1, 2.67)

Coleman vs. Rockies: 1-0, 1.59

Troy Tulowitzki, 1-for-3, 3B

Jonathan Herrera, 0-for-3

Dexter Fowler, 1-for-2, 2B, BB

Chacin vs. Cubs: 1-1, 2.16

Starlin Castro, 0-for-7, K

Kosuke Fukudome, 2-for-3, HR

Tyler Colvin, 2-for-6, K

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



James Russell has given the Cubs everything he has had in three starts since being forced into expanded duty by the injuries to starters Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner.

And that’s why the Cubs might have to look for another option when that spot in the rotation comes up again, Sunday in Arizona.

Don’t be surprised to see somebody like Jay Jackson, the highly regarded Class AAA prospect, get a shot at a big-league start soon. Jackson, who left spring training with elbow tendinitis, has pitched well in two starts since returning to action — including a strong 62/3 innings (one run) Tuesday that puts him on a natural schedule to start again Sunday.

Russell, a situational lefty as a rookie in the Cubs’ bullpen last year, gave up another three homers in a four-inning start that was otherwise competitive in a 4-3 loss Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field.

Not much has been clear about the back end of the Cubs’ rotation since Cashner (shoulder) and Wells (forearm) went on the disabled list at the same time three weeks ago.

Neither is expected back for another two or three weeks, which puts increasing stress on a starting rotation that already ranks last in the major leagues with a 5.91 ERA (5-10 record).

That collective struggle by the starters contributed to a see-saw opening three weeks of the season. And with their first three-game losing streak of the year, the state of the rotation takes on even greater significance.

Casey Coleman, who starts today against Colorado, was the Cubs’ best first choice to fill one of those injury spots in the rotation, and Russell’s place has been a start-to-start proposition since his 12/3-inning big-league starting debut in Houston on a short pitch limit April 12.

‘‘Every time he hits the mound, it’s big for him,’’ manager Mike Quade said before Tuesday’s game. ‘‘It hasn’t gone great for him yet, but we may learn a lot tonight about him.’’

Russell, gave up a pair of home runs to lefty Todd Helton, including a two-out solo shot in the first. But he took a 2-1 lead into the third inning before hitting Dexter Fowler with a pitch leading off the inning and eventually surrendering a two-out RBI double to Troy Tulowitzki. Ty Wigginton hit a homer off him leading off the fourth.

Despite his struggles as a starter, Russell — whose dad, Jeff, was an All-Star starter and reliever —has impressed Quade with his willingness to take on any assignment without apparent effect on his approach or demeanor.

‘‘His value to this club is not going to be hindered one ounce by what happens in these starts,’’ Quade said, ‘‘because I know what I think of Russ. . . . If he has a good start tonight, then, ‘Oh, my God, there’s options outside of what I might think right now.’ ’’

The Cubs have several big-league veterans in the minors, but none appears to be an immediate solution for joining the big-league rotation. That includes Todd Wellemeyer, who looked good in spring training before suffering a hip injury that he’s just now returning to the mound from. He appears at least a week away from game action.



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