Carl Edwards

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."