Cubs prospect Pierce Johnson slowed by hamstring
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 11, 2014 10:15PM
MESA, Ariz. — Right-hander Pierce Johnson, the Cubs’ second-ranked pitching prospect, could start the season behind schedule because of hamstring tightness that has kept him sidelined from workouts much of the last week. It’s not considered serious.
Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president for scouting and player development, said it could push Johnson’s season debut at Class AA Tennessee back by maybe a week.
“It might be one skipped start,” he said, “but it shouldn’t be a situation where he’s left back here in Arizona.”
The hard-throwing Johnson, 22, was the first pitcher drafted by Theo Epstein’s front office. He was the 43rd overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Johnson is the Cubs’ sixth-ranked prospect overall by Baseball America, which ranks him as the 87th overall prospect in baseball.
Eye on Russell
Left-hander James Russell, who had been backed off much of the last two weeks because of “a little dead arm,” responded well enough during a bullpen side session Monday that he’s been scheduled to make his spring debut Wednesday night against the Mariners in Peoria, Ariz.
“Everything’s great,” Russell said.
Russell, whose 151 appearances over the last two years rank fourth in the majors, probably will have his workload watched more closely this year, manager Rick Renteria suggested. But Russell said he wants to pitch as often as needed and doesn’t believe he’s been used too much.
“Obviously, he pitched a lot,” Renteria said. “I’m very cognizant of pitchers’ 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 on a given day. I am very cognizant of how many days in a row they are used.
“Am I aware of [Russell’s workload history]? Yes. Am I going to be mindful of that in the way I use the pitching staff this year? Yes.”
Renteria said shortstop Starlin Castro (hamstring) did well on his first day of running and “dry swings” as he progresses toward a possible return to the lineup next week.
◆ Starter Edwin Jackson will skip a turn in the rotation and pitch a simulated game Wednesday morning. That will keep him on his fifth-day schedule and allow the Cubs to get a three-inning look at rotation candidate James McDonald on Wednesday night.
◆ Renteria said Tuesday he hadn’t had his planned conversation with Jackson about his surprising last-minute decision to throw all fastballs in his last start, but he added, “I’m sure we’ll have the discussion, and then that’ll be between me and him.” Renteria plans to oversee Jackson’s simulated game Wednesday.
◆ Third-base prospect Mike Olt still hasn’t played third while the team takes a cautious approach to the sore shoulder he had early in camp. “He’s close,” said Renteria, who was impressed with Olt’s throw on a 3-6-1 double play Monday while playing first base.