MESA, Ariz. -- Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Chicago Cubs lefty James Russell is getting a late start this spring. After all, he led all left-handed relievers in appearances with 151 over the past two seasons.
So as he makes his spring debut Wednesday night -- after dealing with a dead arm to start camp -- the Cubs are being cautious.
“Obviously, he pitched a lot,” manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday. “I’m very cognizant of pitcher usage. I’m very cognizant of how many times they get up in the bullpen. I’m very cognizant of how many pitches they throw in a given day. Am I aware of it? Yes.”
He’ll need to be after looking at Russell’s statistics over the past two seasons. Russell appeared in 77 games in 2012 and 74 in 2013, and his effectiveness started to wane as the seasons went on. His ERA in the first half those years was under 3.00; in the second half they ballooned to 4.55 in 2012 and 5.29 in 2013.
“I feel good,” Russell said on Monday. “I’m ready to go.”
No reliever is going to admit to overuse or turn down taking the ball when asked to pitch. They know their livelihood from year-to-year hangs in the balance much more than a starter or closer. They can (sometimes) easily be replaced.
The Cubs are aware of Russell’s usage and brought in a second lefty for the bullpen in Wesley Wright. And they limited Russell to just 27 games in the second half last season after he appeared in 47 in the first half. The hope is to make him effective for the whole season.
Ironically, Wright is second in baseball over the past two seasons among lefties with 147 appearances, but unlike Russell, his ERA went down in each of the past two second halves.
Jackson and McDonald on Wednesday: Edwin Jackson will pitch in a simulated game Wednesday with James McDonald throwing in the regular game at night against the Seattle Mariners. Renteria said he has not talked to Jackson as of Tuesday afternoon about his last start in which he threw only fastballs, but would make sure to discuss it before Wednesday.
McDonald struggled in his lone start this spring and was unable to get out of a second inning of work against the Los Angeles Angels.
Vegas trip: The Cubs will play exhibition games against the New York Mets this weekend in Las Vegas. Carlos Pimentel and Chris Rusin will start those games while Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood will throw in split squad games in Arizona on Saturday and Sunday.
Las Vegas native Kris Bryant will travel home for the two games, as will top prospect Javier Baez.