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Chicago Cubs: With back ailing Duensing, others could capitalize

Sep 6, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Brian Duensing (50) throws a pitch during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 6, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Brian Duensing (50) throws a pitch during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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With the acquisition of Brian Duensing, the Chicago Cubs hoped to have found one of the left-handers they needed in the bullpen. But with back stiffness slowing him–at least temporarily–can other capitalize on the opportunity?

If you’ve read anything that I’ve written, you know I’m a guy who fears back issues. After having my own, anytime I see one of the Chicago Cubs with one, I cringe. It’s might be fleeting, but there’s always that chance it could linger. Now, left-hander Brian Duensing can be added to the group that’s had issues this spring.

Many feel that Duensing had the inside track on making the roster out of the bullpen. He may still, but not if this back issue lingers with him. He’s missed some time to injury before, including two weeks in 2015 with an intercostal strain. Then 2 1/2 months in 2016 after having bone chips removed from his left elbow.

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"“I just had some tightness and was starting to compensate it in other directions that wouldn’t help in the future,” said Duensing, who was charged with four runs on five hits in one-third of an inning against the Seattle Mariners. “So we’re doing some stuff to loosen it up and getting it back on track.” h/t Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune"

Should he have any setbacks, who would be the primary guy to take his place? With so many pitchers in camp, there haven’t been a lot of innings to go around. But three names come to minds as pitchers that could take advantage of this should Duensing miss time.

Who could sneak in if he’s out?

Jack Leathersich is a guy the Cubs think highly of after claiming him off waivers from the Mets in November of 2015. Since coming to Chicago he’s posted strong numbers in the minors. And his spring has been minimal but strong (1 IP, 2 K). He pitched in 17 games for the Mets in 2015, posting a 2.31 ERA with a 1.63 WHIP in 11 2/3 innings. He’s one of my favorite lefties that I believe could pay dividends for the Cubs out of the bullpen.

After David Rollins FINALLY found out where he would spend his spring (seriously, take a look at his transaction log), the talented yet underperforming Rollins has shown well this spring. In his four innings, he’s struck out five and walked two while allowing two hits. He’s one of the NRI that could get an extended look this spring.

And then there’s Rob Zastryzny. Cubs manager Joe Maddon showed confidence in him last season. But it’s the Cubs future plans that could be tricky for Zastrynzy. With the pitching staff set to lose one–maybe two starters at the end of the season–the Cubs may look to get him in a starter’s routine in the minors. He performed very well for the Cubs last season, with most of his appearances out of the bullpen (8 games, one start).

Next: Happ, Jimenez continue to turn heads

Clearly, the hope is Duensing will be able to resume throwing on Sunday and get back on the mound as soon as possible. But this is why you need depth in pitching. It might just be for a short period of time, but someone may get the chance to excel.

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