The message gets through to Marmol

704090.png

The message gets through to Marmol

MESA, Ariz. This isnt fantasy baseball. The players arent robots. Millionaires have egos, doubts and insecurities, too.

Carlos Marmols frustration became obvious this week. Even if it is only spring training, the Cubs closer didnt react that way with his typical shoulder shrug: What can I say?

Marmol had given up seven runs combined in his previous two Cactus League outings, showing his wild side by walking two batters and hitting two more. Your reflex was to look up how many blown saves he had last year (10, which led the majors).

Manager Dale Sveum made it a point to talk to Marmol on Wednesday, to reassure him how much he means to the team, and remind him dont get carried away with it, just keep working to get better.

Marmol walked into the clubhouse in a much better frame of mind during Thursdays eventual 12-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at HoHoKam Stadium. He was exhaling after a scoreless inning, and crediting his third manager in the past three seasons.

(Sveum) really told me what I needed to do. Its nice having a manager talk to you like that, Marmol said. I feel different. I was myself. I calmed down a little bit. Its good the manager lets you know what he thinks.

He understands the players better than anybody else so far.

Sveum, whose style is direct and to the point, laughed that one off when he heard about it later in his office.

I hope he says that when its all said and done, Sveum said. Communication, obviously, is huge. Its just a matter of treating these guys like human beings and understanding theyre human, no matter how much money they make.

Whether its the top guy or the 25th guy on the roster, theyre all human beings and theyre going to fail. Theres so much negativity in this game that you have to give everybody confidence. Its just the way it is. These guys are major-league players and theyve had lots of success and sometimes they doubt that ability they have.

Thats why Theo Epsteins front office has told Marmol that hell be the closer and instructed him to work harder on his fastball command.

They give me that confidence, Marmol said, the confidence that maybe I didnt have last year.

The real verdict will come in the regular season, when there are 40,000 fans on their feet at Wrigley Field watching Marmol do his high-wire act.

But for now, Sveum was just content to see Marmol get the third out, a groundball, using a sinker that pitching coach Chris Bosio recommended with a new grip.

Its spring training in Arizona, said former closer Ryan Dempster. There will be a lot of those struggles. The ball flies here, the infields are fast. Sometimes you see the numbers and you look at it as struggling, but I think the way the ball is coming out of his hand is the most important part. I think hell be just fine.

As Marmol stood by his locker laughing and smiling, he was asked about goals for this season. A key member of the teams that won back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008 said the Cubs have to start winning again: The city needs that. We need that.

Myself? Its trying to make the All-Star team, Marmol said. Thats all.

Marmol whose meltdowns helped the Cardinals sneak into the playoffs last season was in such a good mood that he didnt stop there.

The ring, dog, thats what were looking for, Marmol said. I dont want to be jealous (like) last year when St. Louis won. Im trying to get that ring.

Morning Update: Theo Epstein gets big extension, White Sox win fifth straight

Morning Update: Theo Epstein gets big extension, White Sox win fifth straight

Preview: Jose Quintana, White Sox look to win sixth straight game on CSN

Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

White Sox manager Robin Ventura declines to discuss future amid speculation about return

Five more years: Theo Epstein signs massive contract extension with Cubs

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Making adjustments nothing new for new Bulls star Dwyane Wade

Fire shut out in loss at streaking Seattle

Bears defensive problems vs. Cowboys not complicated (unfortunately)

Notre Dame players react to the firing of Brian VanGorder

New tone set in Bulls training camp marked by role adjustments

Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

PITTSBURGH — We interrupt your regularly scheduled coverage of The Plan and that wacky, fun-loving Cubs team to bring you a snapshot of clubhouse frustration.

Jake Arrieta sounded defensive while talking to reporters after Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, standing in front of his locker and second-guessing manager Joe Maddon. On the other side of the room, veteran catcher Miguel Montero questioned the way the Cubs are preparing for the playoffs with Cactus League scripts.

The postgame questions started with Arrieta’s first-inning issues with umpire Chris Guccione’s strike zone. When reporters mentioned Maddon’s positive spin on a seven-run outing, Arrieta dismissed those happy-talk answers about his stuff — “it just wasn’t crisp” — and then wondered why he went from throwing to Montero to rookie Willson Contreras.

“The feeling of the game, from the first pitch, just wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “Switching catchers just felt like we were trying to do a little too much instead of win a ballgame. But I didn’t throw well, no way around it.”

Montero went with a similar passive-aggressive tone, riffing on how the Cubs will maintain their edge almost two weeks after clinching the National League Central title and nine days before their first playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“Did it feel like spring training?” Montero said. “I do believe that. And that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher, for a player, to go into a game knowing that you’re going to play just four innings or five innings or whatever it is.

“This game is still important for all the players. It’s still important for every single guy. I don’t want to go out there not caring about winning or losing. That’s not my mentality. My mentality is going out there because I want to win, regardless.

“We have to trick our mind. Because if that’s how we’re going to go the rest of the way, I guess we need to trick ourselves.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Unprompted, Montero brought up the Pirates scoring three runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday night before the Cubs hung on for a 6-4 victory — without using Aroldis Chapman — as Maddon tries to keep the bullpen fresh for the playoffs.

“We didn’t have our closer warming up,” Montero said. “That’s something I take personally because I’m catching and I want to win.

“It’s hard. I understand (Joe’s) point. And I understand the organization’s point. I respect it. I can only control what I can control. It is what it is.”

OK then, the Cubs are still a 101-win team and the NL’s No. 1 seed. But this became a sharp contrast to all the backslapping after the pregame announcement of Theo Epstein’s monster contract extension. And Arrieta didn’t look like a reigning Cy Young Award winner, giving up 10 hits while John Jaso — who does look like a Pirate — lined a curveball into the right-field seats for a three-run homer in the fourth inning and hit for the cycle.

“We’re moving on,” Arrieta said. “We’ll prepare for the next one. I don’t like giving up seven runs. I’m pissed about that. But moving forward, everything’s fine.”

With Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks lined up at the front of the playoff rotation, Arrieta’s next start is almost two weeks away.

“It doesn’t matter,” Arrieta said. “I’ll throw sides. I’ll prepare. And whoever I face first round — they’re going to be in trouble.”

After burning through 103 pitches in five innings, Arrieta’s regular-season odometer is now at 197 1/3 innings, but he has zero interest in a gimmick that would get him to 200 this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

“Listen, I want to pitch on a schedule,” Arrieta said. “I don’t want to throw an inning in a game. I’m not trying to do anything different. Let’s just prepare like we normally do and go out and try to win games. I’m not trying to throw a bullpen in a game.”

Look, if this isn’t trouble in paradise, then it’s obvious that the Cubs are a hyper-competitive group that knows what’s at stake in October and has some independent thinkers and strong personalities. And that Arrieta’s unreal 2015 season created impossible standards for this year that couldn’t be met with an 18-8 record and a 3.10 ERA, the type of numbers that still get pitchers $200 million contracts.

“I don’t think you know how hard this game is unless you play it,” Arrieta said. “I feel I can have another season like that. People have done it before. Why can’t I do it? I can do it again. So, yeah, I appreciate it. But at the same time, that’s what you strive for. That’s why you work hard. You go out and you try to perform that way.”