Russell likely to have lone lefty status

James Russell appeared in 64 games last season with a 4.12 ERA. Elsa/Getty Images

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- With the likelihood of being the only left-hander in the Chicago Cubs' bullpen to start the season, there is the chance James Russell gets leaned on heavily this season.

Perhaps his usage won’t equate to the 85 games Atlanta Braves left-hander Jonny Venters appeared in last season, but if it is, Russell is more than ready for the challenge.

“I feel like I’ve prepared myself for a bigger workload,” said Russell, who appeared in 64 games last season and 57 in 2010. “Not that I was expecting it once [left-hander Sean] Marshall left, but you kind of have that in the back of your mind that maybe they could be depending on me a little bit more. I think it could be fun, and I’ll get to see some things and learn something about myself.”

What he already has learned this spring is that when he sets his mind to a challenge, good things can happen. When spring began, Russell talked about wanting to fill the void as the club’s late-inning left-hander, but he knew that he would have to make his case with a solid spring.

Consider the last 5½ months as mission accomplished since Russell has pitched well over seven appearances (9 2/3 innings) in Cactus League play.

The sky seems to be the limit for how Russell is used this season. He could be a four- or five-out guy, he could be used as a situational lefty on occasion, and he could even spell Kerry Wood as a setup guy if the temporary need arises.

“There is a good chance he could be the only left-hander in the bullpen and you just use him to the advantage of helping you win every single night,” manager Dale Sveum said, not committing how he will use Russell. “Whatever those innings end up, or appearances, it will be dictated by how we’re playing and how many close games we’re in.”

And perhaps a dominating season could do for Russell what it did for Jeff Samardzija, who parlayed a strong second half in the bullpen last season into a chance to start this spring. After all, Russell did get five outings as an emergency spot starter last season, although he didn’t deliver the results he would have hoped for in the role.

“I don’t see it completely out of my future,” Russell said about one day being a starter. “It’s still what I would like to strive for. I fully believe I can go out and start and go deep in games and end up being a good two or three starter.

“But right now it’s not needed so whatever I can do to help the team whether it be bullpen, swing guy, long guy, whatever, I’m all for it. You can throw me into 162 games for all I care.”