MESA, Ariz. – James Russell is an old-school reliever. He grew up in big-league clubhouses. He wants the ball. He doesn’t think the Cubs have overworked him.
Russell hasn’t appeared in a Cactus League game yet and doesn’t expect to throw off a mound again until next week. But the 28-year-old left-hander thinks he needs to throw only five or six innings to be ready for Opening Day.
“Typical dead arm,” Russell said Wednesday at Cubs Park. “I deal with it every year. I’m pretty sure 95 percent of pitchers deal with it in spring. It’s just being precautionary, slowing it down a little bit.”
The Cubs have pushed Russell, using him 151 times across the last two seasons. He went 7-1 with a 3.25 ERA in 2012 but finished last year at 1-6 with a 3.59 ERA and eight blown saves.
“I can always tell ‘em ‘no’ if I’m not feeling good,” Russell said. “I’ve felt great every time I took the ball and sometimes it didn’t go as well as I wanted it. A lot of people say it’s because I’m tired, but I don’t really believe that.
“It was just not executing pitches. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired or not, you can still have good mechanics and deliver the ball where you want it. I’m ready to do the same thing I’ve done the last two years. That’s hit 75 or 80 appearances.”
Russell’s father, Jeff, pitched for five different teams and saved 186 games in the big leagues. The Cubs shouldn’t have to use Russell in as many high-leverage situations this season. Wesley Wright adds another left-handed option to a group that could include new closer Jose Veras, plus power arms Pedro Strop, Arodys Vizcaino, Blake Parker and Justin Grimm.
The Cubs had to upgrade the bullpen after blowing 26 saves and losing 33 one-run games last season.
“There’s a couple more tricks up the sleeve,” Russell said. “We got a lot of guys with some big arms.”