Marmol was down on the farm this offseason

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Marmol was down on the farm this offseason

In 2011, Cubs closer Carlos Marmol struggled through his worst season since assuming the full time closer's role in 2009. He saw his weight go up, his conditioning was less than stellar, and his performance was far below average. He blew 10 save opportunities which tied for the major league lead and his ERA in the 2nd half of the season was 5.91.

After the firing of Jim Hendry and the hiring of Theo Epsteins management team, Marmol had a heart to heart talk with the new Cubs front office. They were direct in their criticisms and their desire to see him return to form as one of the most dominating pitchers in all of baseball. Marmol set a major-league record in 2010 when he averaged an astounding 15.99 strikeouts per 9 innings and after an off season of hard work he has come to camp with something to prove.

I lost about 15 pounds this winter through my workouts and I really didnt have to change my diet much because I eat healthy, lots of chicken and vegetables, he said.

In addition to a conditioning regimen that involved a lot of cardio work and weight training Marmol spent considerable time riding horses on his farm in the Dominican Republic. I love to ride horses and it is a good way to stay in shape and get some extra work in during the off season. My horses keep me very busy as my brother and I take care of our farms, he said.

Marmol owns an extensive farming operation that includes 40 horses and 700 head of cattle and while he is very involved in the off-season the operation is run full time by his brother. We have a great set up with our milk cows and our beef cows. We also have some chickens as well as all of our horses. It takes a lot of my time in the off season but it is a great way to get away from baseball for a bit when the season ends, he said.

Marmols farm produces milk that is sold in the Dominican Republic and is one of three farms that he owns in his home country. I have been around farms my entire life but a few years ago my brother and I decided to get into the business together. We have the milk cows that produce what we sell as well as some beef cows and some chickens, he said.

After a rough 2011 season, Marmol knows that some doubt his effectiveness as a closer but he is ready to put those doubters minds at ease. I am ready to have a good season and I feel I am in much better shape than I was a year ago. My pitch selection will be a little bit different but I want to get back to where I was in 2010 which is where I should be, he told me.

New Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio loves Marmols ability and is confident the former All-Star can regain the form that made him one of baseballs most un-hittable pitchers.

We have tweaked his approach and his pitch selection some by having him use his fastball and curveball more and setting up that great slider. Carlos has all of the tools to be a great pitcher and we have to all work together to get him back to where he was. Not many teams have a bullpen that feature a Carlos Marmol and a Kerry Wood and we are very fortunate to have them in ours. Carlos has looked great so far in camp and I am looking for him to have a big year for us, Bosio said.

Adam Warren emerging as essential piece on Cubs pitching staff

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Adam Warren emerging as essential piece on Cubs pitching staff

Adam Warren was the lowest-profile addition of the Cubs' offseason, but he's already emerged as a vital part of the team out to the hottest start in baseball.

Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist (plus the re-arrival of Dexter Fowler in spring training) got all the headlines as new acquisitons over the winter.

In fact, Warren wasn't even the main focus in the deal that made him a Cub as the return from the New York Yankees for Starlin Castro, the former face of the franchise who tallied 991 hits in six seasons in Chicago.

Yet where would the Cubs be right now without Warren?

The 28-year-old right-hander has pitched the most innings in the National League without giving up an earned run this season (8) and has allowed just two hits and three walks for a sparkling 0.625 WHIP.

"Just as I thought: outstanding," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I try not to abuse him, pretty much. ... I"m very comfortable pitching him in the latter part of the game, whether it's the seventh, eighth, ninth — it doesn't matter to me. 

"I think this guy could finish games. He's got that kinda ability; he's got that makeup. You got that kinda weapon in your toolbox — he's good against righties and lefties, he's durable, he's got all this variety of different pitches, fits our culture beautifully. I just don't want to abuse the guy."

Warren has worked as a starter in the past and said the Cubs initially told him they wanted him to work in the rotation at some point down the road. 

But for right now, Warren is set as a jack of all trades in the bullpen pitching with confidence.

"I like being versatile," Warren said. "I like being able to do a lot of different things. So if I can continue to do that, that's where I like to be in the bullpen, just because I feel like that helps our team out the most."

Warren — like the rest of the Cubs — doesn't like to think too far ahead. He doesn't worry about what his "title" is in the bullpen, which is a necessary attitude to have with a manager that loves to play the matchups and is constantly tinkering with his relievers.

But Warren has emerged as a high-leverage arm Maddon can combine with Pedro Strop (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 4 holds) and Hector Rondon (0.00 ERA, 0.29 WHIP, 4 saves) at the back end of the bullpen.

As the new guy on the pitching staff, Warren made it a point to get out to a good start.

"With a new team, you really want to prove yourself," he said. "So I think you have that chip on your shoulder a little bit to want to go out there and start off hot. But really, I think it's just going out there, having a gameplan with our scouting report and just executing."

Warren feels comfortable with his new team and in the bullpen, crediting his teammates and the Cubs coaching staff for welcoming him in.

Coming from the Yankees — a historic franchise with 27 World Series championships and a penchant for doing things a certain way (such as their no facial hair policy) — it was a little bit of a culture shock for Warren to come to a Cubs team that hasn't won the World Series in more than a century and essentially has no rules in a clubhouse designed to let everybody be themselves.

But the transition has gone as smoothly as possible, Warren said.

"It's completely different," he said. "Here, they've created the atmosphere of just be yourself, be laid back. I like that. I like being able to grow facial hair if you want.

"You start focusing completely on baseball. The atmosphere that fans create out there has been unreal to me. Even when it's been cold, they've been up for every pitch. It's really refreshing to see the excitement around the team."

Cubs-Braves game has been postponed due to weather

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Cubs-Braves game has been postponed due to weather

There won't be any baseball at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

The Cubs-Braves game has been postponed due to weather. No makeup date has been announced yet.

It's the second time this week a Cubs game has been postponed due to weather — Wednesday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers was also rained out.

The Cubs were looking to extend their winning streak to five games on Saturday with John Lackey on the mound, but that will have to wait until Sunday.

Lackey will still pitch Sunday with Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester slated for Monday through Wednesday for the big three-game series in Pittsburgh. Kyle Hendricks was pushed back and will start Thursday at Wrigley Field in the series opener against the Washington Nationals.

As Arrieta garners all the fanfare, Jon Lester keeps cruising along in Cubs win

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As Arrieta garners all the fanfare, Jon Lester keeps cruising along in Cubs win

Jake Arrieta is getting all the attention on the Cubs pitching staff, but don't sleep on Jon Lester.

As Arrieta defends his supernatural stat lines, Lester has looked every bit the $155 million starter this season.

The veteran left-hander turned in another gem Friday in the Cubs' 6-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in front of 34,007 fans at a frigid Wrigley Field.

Lester allowed only one run in seven innings, punching out 10 for his 26th career double-digit strikeout game.

He got himself into a major jam in the seventh when he gave up a single and a walk and then couldn't get a handle on a bunt (or didn't want to risk a throw to first), loading the bases with nobody out and adding another episode to the "yips" discussion.

"No matter what I say about the bunt in that inning, nobody's really gonna believe what I say," Lester said. "I never had a handle on it. I fielded it, the ball kinda rattled around in my glove. I reached for it twice and didn't have a handle on it, so I ate it. 

"You can believe me or not on that. There's no point in rushing the throw when I didn't have a handle on the baseball."

After a well-timed mound visit from manager Joe Maddon designed to calm Lester down and reset, the veteran southpaw struck out the next two batters and got Nick Markakis to ground out to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the threat and strand the bases loaded.

For the first time in his career, Lester has notched five straight quality starts to begin a season and now has a 1.83 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2016.

Lester has gone at least seven innings and given up exactly one earned run in four of his five starts this season.

So has he lived up to his own expectations?

"Never," Lester said before allowing that he "feels good right now. My mechanics are good. I'm in a good place, executing pitches. 

"... I've always said, even when I was younger, no matter what expectations somebody else puts on me, it will never be as high as what I expect from myself. Every time I go out there, I want to be perfect and I want to win every game I pitch. That's where I'm at.

"Tomorrow, I'll show up and get back to work. It's neverending until the last pitch from me in my career is thrown and move on to something else."

The Cubs couldn't get Lester a win, however, putting up just one run through seven innings against the Braves pitching staff just hours after talking about how this lineup is built to generate offense even in cold, miserable conditions.

That run is the only tally of support the Cubs offense has given him in 20.1 innings of work at Wrigley Field so far this season.

But the bats came alive late when Rizzo broke the tie with an RBI single in the eighth and then Matt Szczur followed with his first career grand slam.

"In a game like today, you really believe you're going to win it somehow," Maddon said. "That's what that kind of a record does. You have a strong belief system you're going to win the game.

"You're getting no hits, but you still have the strong feeling that you're gonna win the game."

The Cubs' 17 victories are tied for the most in franchise history in April with 2008's squad and the 17-5 start is the best mark since the 1907 Cubs began 18-4.