ATLANTA – It only took five games before the Cubs lost patience with Carlos Marmol and anointed Kyuji Fujikawa as their new closer. No one thought it was a panic move or an overreaction. The reaction from fans on Twitter: Finally! What took so long?
Manager Dale Sveum informed both players before Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, the morning after a brutal 6-5 walk-off loss at Turner Field. The Upton Brothers, B.J. and Justin, had launched two Marmol fastballs into the center-field seats.
The Cubs simply couldn’t ignore Marmol’s trend line and the devastating impact late losses can have inside the walls of the clubhouse.
“You can’t complain about it,” Marmol said. “They say that it’s better for me, for the team – I’ll take it.”
Late Saturday night, Sveum had mentioned James Russell and Shawn Camp as possible options for the ninth inning, but the Cubs recruited Fujikawa last offseason with this in mind, handing him a two-year, $9.5 million contract that contains a vesting/club option for 2015 that should make him a building block.
“That’s one reason we signed him – in case something like this happens,” Sveum said. “He’s been (the guy) in Japan (who) has done it many, many times. He’s comfortable in getting those last three outs.
“Instead of sitting here thinking you’re going to do it by committee or anything like that, it’s the logical thing to do right now.”
Marmol lost his job last May but wound up working his way back and converting 19 straight save chances during one stretch and posting a 1.52 ERA after the All-Star break. But there may not be another opening anytime soon – Fujikawa saved more than 200 games for the Hanshin Tigers and has the full backing of the front office.
“I came in with a mindset of being a setup guy,” Fujikawa said through an interpreter. “But once Marmol’s condition gets better, I think there’s a chance he could come back. We all got to fight through it.”
Sveum may not have said this directly to Fujikawa, but the expectation is that he will own the ninth inning: “I don’t want to be having this conversation again 10 days from now.”
“Hopefully, Fujikawa takes it and runs with it and does a great job so we don’t even have to deal with that,” Sveum said. “Marmol’s going to pitch in less stressful situations and get his confidence back. You still only have seven guys in the bullpen, so he’s obviously going (to) end up pitching quite a bit.”
It has been a mystifying spiral for Marmol, who got yanked in the ninth inning on Opening Day and now has a 27.00 ERA. He understood the decision after giving up five runs on six hits and two walks and a hit batter in 1.2 innings.
“I’m not going to put my head down,” he said.
Marmol signed with the Cubs as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic and had to be talked into pitching, stubbornly believing he’d make it as a catcher or an outfielder.
Marmol emerged as an All-Star setup guy in 2008 and earned a three-year, $20 million contract extension after saving 38 games and notching 138 strikeouts in only 77.2 innings. But his mechanics are difficult to keep in order and his slider has flattened out, making it so much harder to draw those swings and misses.
“I’m trying, 100 percent, my heart’s there,” Marmol said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go well. You can’t do anything about it, man.”
Marmol waived his limited no-trade clause and was almost shipped to the Los Angeles Angels last November, before the deal fell apart over concerns about Dan Haren’s medicals/financials. He has repeatedly said that he loves Chicago and would like to stay there, even though he’s working on an expiring contract.
Do you still feel the same way?
“Of course,” Marmol said.
The fans got what they wanted: Marmol Time is over and The Fujikawa Era will begin in Wrigleyville. The next question to be answered: Does the new closer have what it takes?
“That’s the toughest job in all of baseball, because you’re the center of attention for the last three outs,” Sveum said. “Somebody can give up three runs in the sixth inning and it goes unnoticed. But you give up a walk-off hit (and) it’s magnified. (It’s) tough on all of us when we get those kind of losses. You can only imagine what it’s like on the guy that’s out there standing all by himself.”