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Russell faces uncertain closer situation

Russell faces uncertain closer situation

CHICAGO -- With Matt Capps out indefinitely, Pirates manager John Russell once again must piece together his bullpen without a defined closer.

Russell faced that exact dilemma earlier this month when Capps sat out for six games while nursing a bruise on the same right elbow that was struck by a line drive on Monday. Left-hander John Grabow and righty Tyler Yates were Russell's choices for a fill-in closer then. As it turned out, the Pirates never ran into a save opportunity when Capps missed that week in early May.

Now, though, with Yates on the disabled list at least through Saturday with right elbow inflammation, Russell doesn't have the luxury of having both experienced late-inning guys as ninth-inning options.

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So what is Russell's plan should the Pirates encounter a save situation as they close out a three-game series with an afternoon contest against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Wednesday?

"We'll see how the game plays out," Russell said. "Grabow has done it before. We won't hesitate to use him. We'll see where we're at and see what we need late in the game. If we need him in the eighth, then we'll have to figure out something for the ninth."

Russell stayed away from making any sort of projections as to who else he could call on. Sean Burnett, who collected his first Major League save on Monday, could be an option. Rookies Jesse Chavez and Evan Meek, both power arms, would be the two right-handers Russell has at his disposal.

The pair of righties have had notable success in the 'pen this season. Chavez has been one of the team's biggest surprises, posting a team-low 1.83 ERA in 22 games and showing a composure and confidence that surpass his experience level. He also has the ability to throw in the mid-90s.

Though he has struggled to limit his walks, Meek has allowed just five runs in 15 2/3 innings since being called up from Triple-A in late April.

But despite the success the two have had, neither has closed a game at the Major League level. Meek has six Minor League saves. Chavez notched 14 for Triple-A Indianapolis last year.

"A lot of our guys are young and have not really done that [in the Majors]," Russell said. It's a different feeling. It's a tough inning to pitch. We've got some arms down there who we feel very confident have the stuff to be able to pitch late in the game.

"Again, we'll see where we're at in the game and make the decision as to who we want to be out there in the ninth."

Pitching matchup
PIT: LHP Zach Duke (5-4, 2.77 ERA)
Duke deserved much better than a loss in his last start, one in which he was masterfully efficient in an eight-inning effort. Duke needed just 88 pitches, but the two runs he allowed on six hits were enough to do him in, with no offensive support to help him. The lefty has pitched at least seven innings in five of his past six starts and continues to be the Pirates' most consistent and dominant starter. He has also already matched his win total from last year. Duke is 4-5 with a 3.07 ERA in 13 career starts against the Cubs.

CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano (3-2, 4.64 ERA)
Zambrano returned from the disabled list on Friday after straining his left hamstring and pitched into the fifth inning before taking the loss in a 4-0 defeat to the Padres. Zambrano was wild in the first inning, when he walked two, hit a batter and threw 31 pitches. He wound up throwing 4 2/3 innings, though, and allowed three runs on three hits and four walks, striking out seven. Zambrano said he was rushing in that first inning and had trouble with his arm slot. Cubs manager Lou Piniella said, "He'll be much sharper next time out."

Bucs bits
Reliever Craig Hansen (back/neck spasms) is scheduled to have further tests in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, after which, general manager Neal Huntington said, the Pirates will determine Hansen's next course of action. ... Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of Harvey Haddix's pitching 12 perfect innings in a loss. Haddix lost his perfect game in the 13th, and the Pirates lost the game, 1-0, to the Milwaukee Braves. ... The Pirates have rescheduled the grand opening of Josh Gibson Field in Pittsburgh's Hill District for 2 p.m. ET on Saturday. Rain delayed the ceremonies from going on as expected on Tuesday. ... The Pirates' 16 hits on Sunday and 18 hits on Monday gave the club its first consecutive 16-hit games since May 29-30, 2006, against Milwaukee. ... Heading in to Tuesday's game, Triple-A center fielder Andrew McCutchen led the International League with eight triples. His 35 runs scored was also tied for the league lead.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN

On radio
• WPGB-FM 104.7

Up next
• Thursday: Off-day
• Friday: Pirates (Ross Ohlendorf, 5-4, 4.20) vs. Astros (Brian Moehler, 1-3, 8.31), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Pirates (Jeff Karstens, 1-2, 5.19) vs. Astros (Mike Hampton, 2-4, 5.63), 7:05 p.m. ET

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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