ATLANTA – The ominous tomahawk-chopping noise surrounded Carlos Marmol, the perfect soundtrack for a closer on edge. Cubs fans light up Twitter with their votes of zero confidence while the coaching staff doesn’t know – or won’t say – what’s wrong.
Marmol walked back to the dugout alone on Saturday night as the Atlanta Braves hopped in a circle at home plate. Fireworks went off at Turner Field, celebrating The Upton Brothers and a 6-5 walk-off win. The crowd of 38,498 jumped up and down to the techno music.
Silence hung over the visiting clubhouse. The only thing you really heard was the water running in the showers. After B.J. and Justin Upton hammered 93 and 94 mph fastballs into the center-field seats for the game-tying and game-winning home runs, Marmol was on the verge of losing his job.
“We’re definitely going to talk about it now,” manager Dale Sveum said.
Sveum identified Shawn Camp and James Russell as possible replacements. He wasn’t thrilled with Kyuji Fujikawa, who gave up three runs in the eighth inning, leaving no breathing room for Marmol.
General manager Jed Hoyer walked into Sveum’s office after Game 5. If it seems too early to make a change, well, Sveum pulled Marmol in the ninth inning on Opening Day.
By the time Marmol met with reporters at his locker – a pack swelling because of the Japanese media chronicling Fujikawa – he hadn’t spoken with Sveum yet and couldn’t say whether or not he’d be surprised by a change.
“I’m trying to go out there and do my best,” Marmol said. “I don’t say that it’s confidence. I got my confidence. They hit my pitch.”
The Cubs will discuss the potential benefits of moving Marmol to a lower-stress inning, because things clearly aren’t working in the ninth. The $9.8 million closer has faced 13 hitters and given up five runs on six hits, two walks and one hit batter, which translates to a 27.00 ERA.
Sveum was asked to identify Marmol’s biggest problem: Mental? Physical?
“I don’t know,” Sveum said. “If I knew that problem, I’d be a genius.”
Marmol has long struggled with his command and his ability to repeat his funky delivery. But he could pull off the escape enough to become an All-Star setup guy in 2008 and notch 116 career saves. Even when he’s off, he usually doesn’t get hit that hard.
This wasn’t walking two batters and losing on a soft bloop hit. The Upton Brothers sent missiles into the night.
“I don’t know whether it’s mechanical, whether it’s the arm angle or what,” Sveum said. “But, obviously, when he throws strikes it’s getting hit now pretty good, too.”
The Cubs (2-3) wasted a strong start from Carlos Villanueva, who made his case to stay in the rotation by limiting the Braves (4-1) to one run – a Justin Upton homer – across 6.2 innings. Villanueva has been a swingman throughout most of his career, meaning he can identify with Marmol’s struggles.
“I’ve been through it,” Villanueva said. “I just hope that he understands we’ve only had five games. I’m more concerned with how he feels. The results are going to change. Obviously, we all want to do well. We want to win every game. But I’m more concerned with him as a human being.”
Five games appears to be enough time to start looking for a new closer. The Cubs will try to avoid getting swept on Sunday, and the fans will be all over Marmol when they return to Wrigley Field for Monday’s home opener.
Coming up in the Milwaukee Brewers system, Villanueva remembered Marmol, who had to be talked into pitching: “I think I faced him when he was an outfielder back in 2003. We played against each other in every single level through the minor leagues, too.”
Villanueva, a thoughtful guy, was gracious with his answers.
“He’s a strong guy. I spoke to him and I’m sure he’ll recover from this,” Villanueva said. “It will be tough for a little bit. But he’s been a closer for awhile, so he has that mentality and I have confidence in him that he’s going to bounce back and lead us to some victories.”
Does anyone else inside the Cubs organization have that same faith in Marmol?