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

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

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.

Class 1A-2A IHSA girls basketball state championships today on CSN

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Class 1A-2A IHSA girls basketball state championships today on CSN

CSN Chicago will be carrying live coverage of the IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships beginning on Saturday with Class 1A and 2A. Each telecast will be streamed live on CSNChicago.com and IHSA.tv, and will be made available via the NBC Sports app on tablets and smart phones.

CSN will also air highlights packages throughout the weekend, and live stream every postgame press conference.

Viewers are urged to visit CSNChicago.com's Channel finder or IHSA.org for complete channel location details for all games throughout the state. 

[LIVE STREAM: Watch the IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships on CSN]

For a full list of carriers and more information about CSN's live streaming service, viewers are urged to visit the following link: http://www.csnchicago.com/live-faq .  

Here's what the schedule looks like this weekend:

Friday, Feb. 24:

Class 1A Semifinal No. 1: Annawan 51, Harvest Christian Academy 42

Class 1A Semifinal No. 2: Mendon Unity 42, Calhoun 34

Class 2A Semifinal No. 1: Byron 53, Central [Coop] (Camp Point) 37

Class 2A Semifinal No. 2: Central Catholic (Bloomington) 45, St. Edward (Elgin) 42 

Saturday, Feb. 25:

11 a.m. – Class 1A: Harvest Christian Academy vs. Calhoun

12:45 p.m. – Class 1A: Annawan vs. Mendon Unity

5:30 p.m. – Class 2A: Central [Coop] (Camp Point) vs. St. Edward (Elgin)

7:15 p.m. – Class 2A: Byron vs. Central Catholic (Bloomington)

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

The post-deadline era has begun for the Bulls, with the directives clear on developing their young players and seeing what can be done in the last third of the season.

And while their youth sparked them early, it was the headliners who stepped up late in their 128-121 overtime win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at the United Center, as the team was clearly adjusting to life without Taj Gibson, who was traded Thursday.

Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade each had sluggish starts, to say the least. Each looked like he was going through an island-like malaise through the better part of three quarters before waking up.

Butler finally ignored the snooze button at the most opportune time, nearly winning the game in regulation with a tying triple, then a fadeaway 15-footer over Eric Bledsoe to cap off a late comeback that saw the Bulls rebound from an eight-point deficit with a few minutes left in the fourth.

"That's what great players do," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They step up when you need them the most. Jimmy obviously had a tough night shooting the ball (early). ... What he's been doing all year, taking over the game in the fourth, and tonight was no different."

Then Wade, in one of his few post-halftime mistakes, controversially fouled Suns sharpshooter Devin Booker on a triple with 1.5 seconds left, but Booker missed the last of the three free throws to send the game into overtime.

"I think it was good defense," said Butler before giving a nod to his controversial whistle that went his way a week ago. "We don't wanna go back too far, but a foul's a foul."

Wade and Butler continued the assault into the extra session, with Wade rising for a late flush over Suns center Alex Len and raising his arms in celebration — having put together a 23-point performance after a scoreless first half.

"That dunk he had was unbelievable," Hoiberg said. "I should give him another week off."

In the early stages, Butler wasn't as futile as Wade, but he wasn't much better, scoring just eight before the fourth but being more aggressive and assertive with his moments and jump shots, finishing with 22 to go along with nine assists and four steals.

"Just keep shooting the ball and eventually it'll go in," Butler said. "And they did. Coaches put the ball in my hands, I kept taking the same shots, making the same plays. Then they went in."

The Suns led most of the way, mostly due to their team-wide speed and athleticism, getting out on the break the way they did in the first meeting two weeks ago. Booker scored 27, while Bledsoe, TJ Warren and Marquese Chriss each scored 17. Bledsoe added 10 assists and seven rebounds in 40 minutes.

They dominated the fast-break department at a 27-16 clip, and the Bulls actually countered with 3-point shooting, hitting 12 triples and shooting 46 percent from 3.

Nikola Mirotic was 4-for-7 from deep on the way to a 20-point night, while Denzel Valentine put together his best showing as a pro with 15 points, all coming on five made 3s.

Three straight triples from Valentine pulled the Bulls to within one late in the third quarter. The shots were decisive and confident — perhaps as he knew he wouldn't be removed for anyone at the first mistake.

"I like it, take the shots when you're open. Sometimes when you're not open, still shoot it and we know to get back," Butler said.

There were plenty of mishaps and things to complain about as the Bulls hit a new wave, but at least it started with some positive vibes after a day of uncertainty and confusion.