Closer roulette: Cubs will see if Russell is ready for prime time

Closer roulette: Cubs will see if Russell is ready for prime time
May 27, 2012, 8:19 pm
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PITTSBURGH James Russell was born with the DNA to close, and he already has the look down, with long hair flowing out of his hat and a dark beard covering his face.

The Cubs are running out of options for the ninth inning. Dale Sveum sort of chuckled on Sunday when he wondered what those might be. By process of elimination, the manager is down to Russell and Shawn Camp.

The night before, Rafael Dolis had walked two Pittsburgh Pirates and hit another, forcing in the game-winning run. So the 24-year-old rookie is out as closer, though its not like the Cubs are generating many save opportunities these days.

Its a confidence-booster, for sure, Russell said. Those are the big spots. You have a lot of accountability there. Im dont mind being that guy. Im happy to be that guy.

Carlos Marmol, whos recovering from a hamstring strain, was scheduled to pitch at Triple-A Iowa on Sunday and could be activated from the disabled list by Monday or Tuesday.

Sveum has said that the ex-closer with the 20 million contract and a 6.35 ERA will have to show that he can throw strikes and wont be handed the job back automatically.

Dolis who had pitched in one game above the Double-A level until this season picked up four saves but woke up Sunday having given up six runs in his last four appearances. Sveum admitted that Dolis was being put in a situation he probably shouldnt have been in.

Russell (1-0, 1.74 ERA) may not be the ideal answer. Sveum still thinks of him more as a matchups guy, though one who can still get right-handers out.

The 26-year-old left-hander has the bloodlines. His father Jeff saved 186 games in a 14-year big-league career. They talk after almost every outing.

I havent really asked him about just straight-up closing before, said Russell, who made 40 starts in the minors. Ive never really thought about myself being put in the position of closer.

Its kind of funny that now Im being thrown around in there, because thats always been the last thing on my mind as a baseball player. But its kind of cool. I have to get some pointers from him.

As Sveum said: Those genes usually work out.

But at this point, the manager will just settle for someone who can throw strikes. On some nights, it could be Camp (2-2, 2.84), who spent years battling those brutal lineups in the American League East.

The two guys who have constantly done it are Camp and Russell, Sveum said. If something happens, its going to be because (the other team) hit the ball. Were imploding by walking guys and hitting guys.

That might not be the strongest vote of confidence, but it will be interesting to see what Russell does with this opportunity, in a year the Cubs are trying to identify core players for the future.

Im ready for a phone call no matter what, Russell said. You got to look at it as three outs, whether its in the first inning or the ninth inning. Its three outs and you got to go out there and make your pitches.

A 14th-round pick in the 2007 draft, Russell broke into the big leagues in 2010 pitching for Lou Piniella, a manager not known for his patience with relievers.

Russell has been the same easy-going guy ever since, and would like to be a major part of Theo Epsteins rebuilding project.

You cant worry about the stuff you cant control, Russell said, whether its offensive woes or manager changes, front office changes. Its just something so far out of my control. You just dont even really worry about it. You just kind of go about your business and make sure youre ready every day.

Russell, who attended the University of Texas, is a bit of a free spirit, regularly wearing the Ditka and Dont Toews Me, Bro T-shirts you can buy on Clark Street.

Russell was asked if hes crazy enough to handle the ninth inning.

Yeah, absolutely, he said, crazy, stupid, whatever.