Can Cubs’ pen write a happy ending?

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If we didn’t already know how important the Cubs’ bullpen figured to be this season, the Cubs are poised to find out in no uncertain terms over the next couple of weeks just how strong this team strength is.

When right-hander Jeff Stevens joined the team from AAA Iowa today in Milwaukee – as the Cubs officially placed injured starters Randy Wells (forearm) and Andrew Cashner (shoulder) on the DL – it gave them eight relievers available for the first two games of this three-game weekend series.

By Tuesday in Houston, it could be all about the bullpen, as lefty Jeff Russell gets the call to start but on a 50-pitch limit that leaves the Cubs counting on just three innings from him, manager Mike Quade said.

After that, Quade said it’ll depend on how much work the pen is needed to produce over the four games leading up to Tuesday.

“We’ll monitor this thing day to day to see how it sets up,” said Quade, who expects Casey Coleman to join the team tonight or tomorrow for a scheduled Sunday start in Milwaukee. “I think each day you use or don’t use the bullpen you take a look at what your needs are. … If we wind up with a real rested bullpen on Tuesday, then that gives us some options.”

If Russell fares well Tuesday, he could be called on for 70 or so pitches in another start a week later when the Cubs next would need a fifth starter.

Meanwhile, the bullpen remains a source of optimism for Quade, and one of the reasons he’s not concerned about his three remaining healthy starters getting too caught up in the idea of trying to compensate for the losses of the two others.

“They’ve been down this road before,” he said of veterans Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza. “In spite of the fact we’ve lost two starters, they know who’s behind them bullpen-wise. It’s got to be pretty comforting to be a starter here and know what kind of bullpen we have.”

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