In potentially elite Cubs bullpen, veteran Brian Duensing just wants to avoid being the weak link

In potentially elite Cubs bullpen, veteran Brian Duensing just wants to avoid being the weak link

MESA, Ariz. - The Cubs may very well have the best bullpen in baseball when it's all said and done, but there is one noticable weakness: Left-handed pitching.

Veteran Brian Duensing is hoping to fill that need.

If Brett Anderson can stay healthy in the rotation, southpaw Mike Montgomery will probably spend a lot of time working as a swingman out of the bullpen but beyond that, the Cubs don't have many experienced lefty options beyond Duensing, who is entering his ninth big-league season.

"I just want to be reliable," Duensing said. "I don't want Joe [Maddon] or [Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio] questioning whether or not I can get the job done. I want to be accountable and reliable and help these guys repeat again."

Duensing is battling Rule 5 kid Caleb Smith, former second-round pick Rob Zastryzny and Jack Leathersich among guys on the Cubs 40-man roster. But those three lefties have combined for just 27.2 innings in the majors and Smith has thrown only one game above Double-A.

Duensing, 34, signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Cubs over the winter after appearing in just 13.1 innings for the Baltimore Orioles last season due to an elbow injury. He was released by the Kansas City Royals in May.

The southpaw is currently nursing a minor lower back issue, but the Cubs said Sunday he has gone two straight days without pain and expects to get back into games soon.

Health was Duensing's No. 1 key as he approached spring training with the team and he was trying not to get caught up in numbers. 

In five spring outings, he has allowed five runs on 10 hits and two walks, including a rough outing Thursday in which he surrendered four runs on five hits and a walk while recording just one out before leaving with the back tightness.

"Make sure you get through spring healthy and give yourself a chance," Duensing said. "Having the benefit of being around, teams know what you can do and I think putting too much pressure on your results in spring is something that you can't focus on.

"It's just spring training. You're out here trying to get ready to go and if you push it too fast or you're trying to do too much, you can get hurt or create bad habits. Stuff like that could affect your season."

The former third round pick of the Minnesota Twins (2005) has worked in plenty of different roles throughout his career, appearing in 368 games and making 61 starts. He sports a career 4.13 ERA, but that mark drops to 3.65 as a reliever, including a 3.86 ERA in 2014 games over the last four years.

If Duensing can stay healthy and repeat his past performance, it will be key for a talented Cubs bullpen that is very right-handed heavy, though Koji Uehara, Justin Grimm and Carl Edwards Jr. are very adept at getting left-handed hitters out.

"I'll take the ball any day they want me to take it," he said. "I'm gonna be a level-headed guy. I'm just gonna go out and pitch when I need to and try and give you as many innings as I can."

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

According to David Kaplan, the Cubs have made their decision on a new manager. And to no surprise, they've landed on David Ross.

Ross was widely speculated as the heir apparent to Joe Maddon and that's exactly how the situation has played out. The team also interviewed incumbent bench coach Mark Loretta, first-base coach Will Venable, Astros bench coach Joe Espada, and former Cubs player and Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

The Cubs had whittled down their options to Ross and Espada, with both candidates coming in earlier this week for a second interview:

Ross retired after the 2016 season and has spent the last three seasons working in a special assistant role in Theo Epstein's front office while also serving as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN. He has not coached or managed at any level. 

During his two years as a player with the Cubs, Ross was an integral part of changing the culture inside the clubhouse and is revered as a legendary leader to all the young players that came up and helped end the 108-year championship drought. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant affectionately dubbed him "Grandpa Rossy" and he rode that popularity on the shoulders of his teammates in a Rudy-esque celebration after Game 7 and then a stint on "Dancing with the Stars." Every time he has been shown on the video board at Wrigley Field, it elicits a deafening cheer from Cubs fans.

Even three years since he last donned the uniform, Ross' impact remains and the Cubs have been searching for the type of clubhouse leadership he provided. Earlier this season, Javy Baez brought up Ross unprompted, mentioning how Ross told him that this game teaches you something new on a daily basis.

The question was never really if and more about when Ross was going to get a chance to manage the Cubs in the future. Just last fall, he was brought up as a potential option to replace Brandon Hyde as Maddon's bench coach, but Ross still wanted to spend time with family in retirement and wasn't yet ready to commit to the grind of a long season.

Still, Epstein mentioned at the GM Meetings last November that he and the front office were pushing Ross to be around the team more in 2019. GM Jed Hoyer followed that up at the Winter Meetings in December talking about how much of an impact Ross has on these players and the level of trust that's already inherent within this group.

Apparently, Ross is now willing and able to put in the 7-to-8 month time commitment to step in as the Cubs' new manager. When it was officially announced Maddon would not be returning, Ross was on ESPN's Baseball Tonight and expressed interest in the job and Epstein confirmed the next day Ross was on the team's list of managerial candidates.

Epstein mentioned he would prefer hiring a manager with big-league experience and the main theme of his end-of-season press conference was all about change, not hanging their hats on 2016 and climbing out of the "winner's trap." But they still opted for Ross as the organization's new field general.

"I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before, especially with manager," Epstein said on the final day of September. "I think there are ways for that to be overcome. There’s a lot of different ways to get experience in this game. Beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.

“David Ross has a lot of great things going for him, I would say. His connection to the players on this team, and especially his connection to the 2016 team, are not necessarily things that are gonna be important to us.

“I think Rossy is a really attractive candidate, and he’s gonna be evaluated on the merits, what he can bring to the table as a major league manager given his skills, given his experiences, given his world-view, given what he knows about winning, all those things.”

We now know how that evaluation process has played out.

The question now becomes — how would the Cubs players handle Ross as a manager, moving from friend and teammate to boss? 

We'll find out in the coming months.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Mailbag edition


Cubs Talk Podcast: Mailbag edition

3:00 - Listener question: Espada or Ross? Kelly Crull shares some inside info on Joe Espada

7:30 - Kelly talks about David Ross' second interview for the Cubs managerial job.

11:30 - Listener question: Say it is Espada, do you see any way David Ross comes on as a coach behind Espada?

13:30 - Listener question: Could the team regress further due to a lack of familiarity with a new manager?

20:10 - Listener question: How hard will Theo and Jed go after Gerrit Cole? And if he's not available who else is?

23:30 - Listener question: Are you trying to extend Castellanos?

26:00 - Listener question: If you sign Castellanos are you also trading Kyle Schwarber?

28:45 - Listener question: Should the Cubs trade Kris Bryant? What would they get back in return?

33:00 - Lighting round: Will Nico Hoerner be the opening day second baseman and keep the job in 2020?

33:10 - Lightning round: Will the Cubs bring back Cole Hamels?

33:45 - Can we and should we clone Javy Baez so we have a fresh Javy when he retires, or is that unethical?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.