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Russell, relievers faltering in closeout opportunities

SEATTLE -- Cubs reliever James Russell began the season with 17 straight scoreless outings, and has not given up a run in 31 of his 38 appearances. But the lefty also is 0-for-5 in save opportunities.

"We've had a little trouble with everyone closing out games or the eighth inning, or whatever it might be," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Saturday. "It's been tough all year long to get those outs, whether it's been the eighth or ninth inning for holds. It's been a big fistfight."

Because Russell is the only lefty, Sveum has to pick his spots as to when to use him. Bottom line, though, the job is the same.

"We've got to make pitches and get people out in those situations," Sveum said. "That's the way it is. It's not how much you use them. You've got to be able to get those crucial pitches. We're getting ahead of people and not making the pitch."

On Friday, Russell was charged with a blown save when he served up two runs to the Mariners, who eventually won, 5-4, in 10 innings.

At least Russell isn't walking batters.

"We're talking about a guy who's getting hit, he's not walking guys or throwing scuds," Sveum said. "It's more of not being able to put guys away. He's getting ahead of them in situations. The leadoff hitter was the biggest of all because [Russell] gets him 0-1 and gets the ball up and out over the plate, and the guy hits a double, and then all hell broke loose after that."

That was in the eighth inning Friday when the Cubs had a 4-2 lead. Nick Franklin doubled, and would eventually score.

"We keep getting ahead in these games," Sveum said. "We can't seem to hold them. The offense has been picking up and doing their job. We're just snakebit in closing games out."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.
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