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Cubs’ closer carrousel might turn to James Russell

Cubs reliever Shawn Camp has 51 strikeouts only 19 walks 71 innings. He has made 73 appearances. | PSullivan~AP

Cubs reliever Shawn Camp has 51 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 71 innings. He has made 73 appearances. | Pat Sullivan~AP

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Updated: July 3, 2012 11:46AM



PITTSBURGH — Coming off a last-place season and staring at another, former Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly was asked one spring what he planned to do for a closer.

‘‘What do we need a closer for if we’re going to win 40 games?’’ he said.

The Twins won 69 that year. Nobody saved even 15 of them. Point made.

Then there’s Dale Sveum, the roster-challenged manager of the Cubs, who faces a Kelly-like quandary with even fewer options.

His latest closer, rookie Rafael Dolis, walked the bases loaded before hitting a batter to force in the winning run Saturday. By Sunday, he was pitching in middle relief. He walked the only two batters he faced.

‘‘What are our other options?’’ Sveum said. ‘‘What are you going to do?’’

This is where the mess that is this season — this bullpen, in particular — becomes an opportunity.

James Russell and Shawn Camp have taken advantage. They’ve been the Cubs’ best relievers by far.

‘‘With those two guys, you can at least go in and know if something happens, it’s going to be because they hit the ball and not losing [at the] end of games because of walks,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘That’s the biggest frustrating thing of all, that the back end of the bullpen is just giving it up because of walks and hit batters. Nobody’s hitting the ball. We’re imploding by walking guys and hitting guys.’’

Speaking of which, Carlos Marmol — the $20 million closer when the season began — will return from a hamstring injury Monday or Tuesday. But Sveum said Marmol still has to prove he can throw strikes and get outs before getting another sniff at the closer job.

That leaves the door wide open for Russell, the third-year left-hander whose father, Jeff, was an All-Star starter and closer.

‘‘I’ll have to get some pointers from him, maybe,’’ said Russell, who has pitched in almost every relief situation this year and said he’s ready for anything the team wants. ‘‘I haven’t really asked him about just straight-up closing before. It’s kind of funny that now I’m getting thrown around in there because it’s always been the last thing on my mind as a baseball player. It’s kind of cool.’’

Said Sveum: ‘‘His dad was a guy that closed and had a nice career. It’s one of those things where James Russell throws strikes, throws four different pitches, which is kind of the way his dad pitched, as well.’’

Is he offbeat enough, even crazy enough, to handle it?

‘‘Absolutely,’’ Russell said. ‘‘Crazy, stupid, whatever.’’

NOTES: Catcher Steve Clevenger (oblique) went 3-for-3 with a home run in a minor-league rehab game Saturday. He’s expected to play nine innings behind the plate Monday before rejoining the Cubs for their trip to San Francisco after the game Wednesday.

◆ Top prospect Anthony Rizzo left Class AAA Iowa’s game with a sore right wrist and is day-to-day, the Cubs said. Rizzo is hitting .354 with 17 home runs.



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