Cubs' Russell declares himself healthy, hopeful for Opening Day

MESA, Arizona -- The Chicago Cubs should have their World Series-winning starting infield intact for Opening Day after shortstop Addison Russell declared Wednesday that his back was 100 percent.

Russell has missed time late in spring but is hopeful to be in the lineup on Thursday and/or Friday when the team plays exhibition games in Houston in advance of the regular season opener in St. Louis on Sunday night.

"The back feels really good," Russell said. "Just trying to make Opening Day. I'm pretty confident making that opening day lineup."

Russell has been throwing for several days and will take some batting practice on Wednesday before the team breaks camp. The Cubs have no plans to place him on the disabled list, though the same can't be said of lefty reliever Brian Duensing, who is recovering from back spasms. He will start the year on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Iowa. The move opens a roster spot for popular outfielder Matt Szczur.

"We'll start the year with a seven-man bullpen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said. "With the off days we should be OK."

Szczur is out of minor league options, so the Cubs are able to delay a long-term decision on him. They were planning on carrying eight relievers to reduce the workload on their pitchers after a short offseason, but April features five off days, allowing for a 12-man pitching staff and a home for Szczur -- for now.

"I love this organization," Szczur said. "I'm excited to be there with them when we get our rings and wear those gold jerseys."