CINCINNATI This seemed like the perfect opportunity to get Carlos Marmol a low-stress, confidence-boosting save. But nothing is easy with the Cubs closer right now.
Some 18 hours earlier at Great American Ball Park, Marmol had worked a one-two-three ninth inning and finished off the Cincinnati Reds.
You can look for positive signs, but its hard to draw any meaningful conclusions. At the moment, the Cubs have no idea whats going to happen when their closer walks through the gate.
Thats why manager Dale Sveum had to consider a change after Thursdays 4-3 loss to the Reds in 10 innings.
Theres definitely thought of it now, Sveum said. I cant lie to you.
Sveum mentioned James Russell and Rafael Dolis as options, excluding 3 million setup man Kerry Wood, who just came off the disabled list with right shoulder fatigue.
Thats about it, really, Sveum said, if we do elect to go with a change and just use matchups (with) whatever happens in that ninth inning.
After Ryan Dempster threw eight scoreless innings, Marmol couldnt protect a three-run lead. The enigmatic closer walked Willie Harris who was hitting .097 entering the game and Joey Votto on nine pitches combined.
Marmol induced a groundball from Brandon Phillips, which third baseman Ian Stewart charged aggressively. The topspin made it take a funny hop, and it skipped past Stewart for an error.
I just missed it, Stewart said. Plain and simple.
Marmol gave up a sharp single to Jay Bruce and walked Ryan Ludwick to put another run on the board. It was all unraveling.
Heres the situation Marmol left for Dolis, a 24-year-old rookie: Bases loaded, no outs, one-run lead. Dolis was able to force a double-play ball while the tying run scored, and then struck out Wilson Valdez to end the ninth, before losing it in the 10th.
Hes the manager. He can do whatever he wants to do, Marmol said. Ill take the ball whenever he asks me to.
Marmols unpredictable slider made him one of the best relievers in the game, and got him a big contract, but the Cubs have been trying to get him to evolve beyond that one pitch for awhile now.
Inside the clubhouse, that was one takeaway from Carlos Zambranos We stinks! rant after Marmol blew a save last year in St. Louis.
Its been a point of emphasis for a new coaching staff since the start of spring training: Trust your fastball.
Sveum called it the same story again. Why hasnt the message sunk in yet?
To tell you the truth, I dont know. Its a confidence factor or something, Sveum said. Weve talked about it, and when he gets out on the mound, things change.
We cant ever forget that a couple years ago he was pretty dominant throwing (that slider for a strike) whenever he wanted. So there is a fallback there. At one time, he was having tremendous success being able to throw that thing at any time.
That seems like a distant memory for a guy with a 6.23 ERA whos owed 16.8 million this season and next. All the momentum from a 3-3 road trip through Philadelphia and Cincinnati seemed to evaporate.
We had another opportunity to win a game and we didnt get it done, Stewart said. Its not just on (Marmol). As a team, we had opportunities to put more runs on the board. Thats why baseball is tough. Its a team game, but guys get singled out like that at the end.
In the past, Marmol had thrived on those high-pressure situations. Surrounded by reporters at his locker, he didnt want to talk about his confidence level.
Im embarrassed right now, he said.