ST. LOUIS One day late in spring training, Carlos Marmol agreed to translate for Rafael Dolis. Marmol has earned a reputation as someone whos always at his locker, win or lose, ready to take the heat.
As the media moved in for a nice and easy notebook item, one reporter asked Marmol to ask Dolis if he would like to close one day.
Close what? Marmol said and everyone laughed. What are you talking about?
Even if it didnt come out quite right, it was still a very good question. No one thought the answer would come about a month into the season.
Dolis had his baptism by fire into the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry on Tuesday in St. Louis, in front of another sellout crowd at Busch Stadium. They celebrated a 7-6 walk-off win as Yadier Molina hit a two-out RBI single past diving second baseman Darwin Barney.
Dolis looked like he wanted to throw his glove to the ground. A Cubs team thats playing the percentages with spray charts and defensive positioning got burned on that one.
Its one quarter of a step from maybe saving a run, Barney said. Thats kind of how we play Yadi. Hes such a talented hitter. He can hit the ball to all fields. He tends to hit the ball up the middle or to the pull side early in the count.
If there was two strikes right there, I probably would have shifted over a little bit. Were committed to playing the middle. I wasnt shifted all the way over, but just enough for him to get it through there.
But it didnt have to come down to that in the ninth inning.
In the eighth, Matt Carpenter launched James Russells first-pitch fastball 422 feet into the seats in right-center field. The inning before, Kerry Wood walked two batters and allowed the game-tying run.
The Cubs wasted Alfonso Sorianos first home run this season, a game-tying shot in the ninth in his 120th at-bat. Those are the margins for a 15-21 team and an organization thats willing to go through the growing pains.
Manager Dale Sveum officially told Marmol he lost the job on May 4, the morning after another meltdown in Cincinnati. One week later, Marmol strained his right hamstring and went on the disabled list.
Dolis a 24-year-old rookie who had pitched in one game above the Double-A level until this season has emerged as a potential long-term solution for the ninth inning.
You never know the makeup of people, how they handle the last three outs, Sveum said before the game. Its not made for everybody. So hes obviously proven so far that the makeup is there for it. For a young guy that hasnt pitched a lot in the big leagues, I think thats the biggest thing.
There will be some trial-and-error stuff and understanding what goes into that.
Cubs people felt the same way about Marmol when they announced his three-year, 20 million contract on Valentines Day 2011. He was coming off a season in which he notched 38 saves in 43 chances.
Marmol has had issues with his mechanics, the feel for his slider and trusting his fastball. Hes back in Chicago receiving treatment for an injury thats considered relatively minor. Hell likely pitch one or two innings at Triple-A Iowa before being activated.
Who knows? Maybe the time away will help someone who has a 6.35 ERA, two blown saves and 16 walks in 11.1 innings.
But Sveum has said that he wont make changes just for the sake of making changes. This is a huge opportunity for Dolis, whos 2-3 with four saves, a 3.52 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP.
He got the groundball (Molina) just happened to hit it in a place he doesnt hit it very often, Sveum said before looking more broadly at his closer.
(Dolis) is not a big strikeout guy, so hes got to learn to throw his slider more. You cant keep throwing fastball after fastball. Hes got a good slider and hes got to use it. Hes learning that he needs to use that pitch more.
The overall bullpen issues compelled the Cubs to sign veteran reliever Mike MacDougal to a minor-league deal that will put him in Iowa. (They also acquired Hunter Cervenka, a Class-A left-hander in the Boston Red Sox system, to complete the Marlon Byrd-Michael Bowden trade.)
The Cardinals (21-15) arent exactly running away with the division. The Cubs now have 11 losses after leading, and have lost six games in the final at-bat.
Were playing good baseball, and were doing a lot of the little things right, Barney said, but in the end you got to start stacking up the wins.