Cubs waiting for someone to grab the closer’s job

Cubs waiting for someone to grab the closer’s job
April 24, 2013, 4:45 pm
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CINCINNATI – No matter what, Dale Sveum will get second-guessed. But ideally the Cubs manager would like to see someone step up and grab the closer’s job. 

“I think that helps everything out in the long run,” Sveum said Wednesday. “But one thing that also helps is putting people in matchups or situations where they can succeed in a better fashion.

“Like I’ve said all along, it’s just different those last three outs. It’s a whole ‘nother animal.”

Kevin Gregg felt that rush of adrenaline again on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park, finishing a 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds in the 10th inning. He signed a minor-league deal and was only added to the roster last week, but this situation is so fluid that he could take back his old job.

“That’s an awesome feeling,” Gregg said after notching his 145th career save. “I love the pressures of (closing). That’s a lot of weight on your shoulders when you’re out there making pitches in that situation. I love it. I love that pressure. I love what comes with it, being able to carry home a victory for the team.”

When Sveum demoted Carlos Marmol and anointed a new closer only five games into the season, he expected Kyuji Fujikawa to take the job and run with it, saying: I don’t want to be having this conversation again in 10 days.

Six days later, the Cubs put Fujikawa on the disabled list with a right forearm strain. It’s been that kind of April. The questions about the closer-by-committee will keep coming.

On Tuesday night, Sveum brought in Marmol to face Joey Votto with one out and a runner on second base in the ninth inning. To that point, the 2010 National League MVP had gone 1-for-15 with nine strikeouts against Marmol.

Votto drove a hard-hit ball past diving second baseman Darwin Barney to tie the game. Marmol – who had been a setup guy for Gregg before getting promoted to closer in 2009 – has not been charged with a run across his last seven outings.  

“I know what he’s going through,” Gregg said. “I’ve been through that. It’s not an easy situation and I think (he’s) throwing the ball well. (Giving) up that groundball to Votto – the numbers were in his favor (and) the matchup was there. If that ball’s hit to Barney, we’re not talking right now. 

“But things get magnified when you get in those late innings – especially (in) the closer role and (if) things aren’t going your way. He’s got to stay headstrong and get through these things. He’s going to be a viable part of this team.”

By the time Fujikawa gets healthy, Sveum said it’s possible he will have already settled on a closer. Fujikawa still has to get through a few throwing sessions before beginning a rehab assignment in the minors. 

So far, five different relievers have blown six saves for the 6-14 Cubs. But they aren’t the only team feeling that endgame anxiety. 

The Reds scrapped their rotation experiment with Aroldis Chapman in late March and decided to use his 100 mph fastball as a weapon in the ninth inning. The Milwauke Brewers demoted John Axford, who had notched 105 saves across the previous three seasons. The Detroit Tigers just brought back Jose Valverde, even after Papa Grande gave up nine runs in 2.2 innings during the 2012 postseason. 

“It’s not just this year,” Sveum said. “If you ever paid attention and been in the game as long as I have, (that’s) the way it is, unless you have Mariano Rivera or (Dennis) Eckersley or (Trevor) Hoffman.

“You know going in that tying run’s going to get to the plate. Somehow, someway, it’ll happen.”

Sveum breaks down the video, analyzes the numbers and plays the percentages. But the manager still has an old-school belief that it takes guts, a certain type of personality to handle the ninth inning. The Cubs are waiting for someone to step forward.