Trying to defuse closer controversy, Cubs defend Marmol

Trying to defuse closer controversy, Cubs defend Marmol
April 3, 2013, 7:30 pm
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PITTSBURGH – Cubs fans won’t give Carlos Marmol the benefit of the doubt. Just look at the reactions on Twitter. Who else gets booed during his final Cactus League tune-up?

And there’s no doubt the front office will try to move the $9.8 million closer by the July 31 trade deadline. But until then, manager Dale Sveum has to look into the cameras and give votes of confidence: “He’s the closer.”

As much as the Cubs want to say it’s only one game, pulling Marmol in the ninth inning on Opening Day shined a spotlight on his control issues and accelerated questions about when Kyuji Fujikawa will take over as closer.

[RELATED: Samardzija's fast start ends with closer questions for Cubs]

“It’s magnified because of the struggles he had last year,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said Wednesday. “Here’s a guy that was on one hell of a roll the second half and how we got him on that roll was getting him back out there – just like any other player. Baseball is peaks and valleys. Carlos had, I thought, some pitch-selection issues that we addressed.”

Sveum lost patience with Marmol last May and removed him from the closer’s role, frustrated with how he didn’t throw enough fastballs and relied too much on his slider. Marmol finally began to get the message and converted 19 straight save chances at one point, posting a 1.52 ERA in 30 games after the All-Star break.

That didn’t stop team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer from trying to trade Marmol to the Los Angeles Angels last November – until there were concerns about Dan Haren’s medicals/financials.

That didn’t carry over to Arizona, where Marmol gave up 11 hits and nine walks in 10.1 innings and finished with a 6.97 ERA. Sveum recalled his time as a Boston Red Sox coach and pointed out that Keith Foulke “had the worst spring training you’ll ever see in the history of the game” before helping the Band of Idiots win the 2004 World Series.

That didn’t build up enough capital to let Marmol work out of a jam after Jeff Samardzija threw eight scoreless innings on Monday at PNC Park. With a three-run lead down to two – and two runners on – Sveum summoned James Russell and Fujikawa to get the final two outs in a 3-1 victory.

“Our 'pen is strong,” Samardzija said. “I got tons of confidence in those guys. It’s nice when they come shake your hand and you know you can hand the ball over to a group of guys that can get the job done.”

Sveum spoke with Marmol but said the issue wasn’t getting on the same page as the coaching staff.

“We’re looking too far into something that happened,” Sveum said. “His fastball – he didn’t have command of that. He didn’t have command of his slider either. It wasn’t about pitch selection.”

[MORE: Dale Sveum is going to manage the Cubs his way]

It’s easy to forget now, but Marmol was an All-Star setup guy in 2008 and earned a three-year, $20 million extension after going 38-for-43 in save chances and registering 138 strikeouts in 2010.

With that contract set to expire at the end of this season, he’s a short-term asset with a replacement already lined up in Fujikawa, who notched 200-plus career saves with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan.  

“The bottom line is getting wins right now,” Bosio said. “I don’t care what the score is, how we do it. We’re trying to get wins to build momentum. It would have been nice – and I know Carlos wanted to have a 1-2-3 inning – but it didn’t happen. Russell came in and picked Carlos up and Fujikawa picked Russell up. It was a great win.”

Win or lose, Marmol’s always at his locker and available to answer questions. He admitted he was surprised by the quick hook, but otherwise didn’t make it an issue with the media.

“He was relieved when we won the game,” Bosio said. “Carlos is just like every other player, every other staff member – trainers, coaches, front office – we want to win games. Right now in a perfect scenario, you’d love for it to go smooth and we win that game 3-to-nothing. But baseball doesn’t work like that.”