Lost Marmol tries to forget the past

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Lost Marmol tries to forget the past

MESA, Ariz. This was last September, when the Boston Red Sox were in the middle of an epic collapse and no one knew who would wind up running the Cubs.

As reporters crowded around his locker at Wrigley Field, Carlos Marmol laughed off the uncertainty about who might be the closer in 2012: You want somebody else?

Theo Epstein waved goodbye to Aramis Ramirez, Marmols closest friend in the clubhouse and the godfather to his daughter. The new president of baseball operations also traded away Carlos Zambrano, who called out Marmol during last seasons WE STINKS! rant.

Yet there was Marmol on Monday at Fitch Park, back for his 13th year in the organization, ready to close again. He laughed when asked what life is like without Zambrano around.

Its different, Marmol said. He was a good guy, though. Hes got his own problems. Thats not my business. I try to take care of my business. Everybody has to take care of their business."

Except in St. Louis, a reporter joked, referencing Zambranos meltdown after Marmol blew a save against Ryan Theriot and the Cardinals last June.

I dont know, man, Marmol said. Everybody says whatever they want to say. Just keep it quiet. I dont care what anybody says.He apologized to me. I dont know why, because I didnt hear anything he said. I dont read the papers. It doesnt bother me.

But last season, something got to Marmol, who led the majors with 10 blown saves and lost the closers job at one point. He says hes shed about 10 pounds and will stop experimenting with a cut fastball.

I got a little lost, Marmol said. Im trying to forget about the cutter and everything from last year.

The Cubs want Marmol to focus on his strengths, the devastating slider that can completely baffle hitters (and keep their fans on edge). First-year manager Dale Sveum told him to get rid of the cutter, while new pitching coach Chris Bosio is stressing a simple adjustment, the right way to align his shoulders.

All of this is trying to push Marmol back to where he was earlier in his career, an All-Star setup man in 2008 and a dominant closer in 2010. The eye-popping numbers from that year 38 saves in 43 chances, 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings pitched earned him the big contract heading into 2011.

It was a nice story, the 16-year-old kid the Cubs signed out of the Dominican Republic who at first resisted the idea of being converted into a pitcher striking it rich.

Marmol says the 20 million contract didnt get in his head: No, I dont worry about money. I try doing my job and stay away from thinking about (that).

Marmol will earn 7 million this season, before his salary jumps to 9.8 million in 2013. The economics obviously arent the same, but all winter long, Epstein focused on acquiring potential bounce-back players coming off disappointing years.

This isnt a complete change of scenery. But maybe listening to a few new voices and using the short-term memory essential to any closer will make all the difference.

To be honest with you, I lost a lot of confidence, Marmol said. But its a new year, (so) forget about that. (Were here now).

Freak of nature: Kris Bryant wows again with insane healing ability

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USA TODAY

Freak of nature: Kris Bryant wows again with insane healing ability

For the second time in the last month, the reigning MVP has avoided serious injury and returned ahead of schedule.

Kris Bryant continues to impress everybody with his magical healing abilities.

He is in the lineup for Saturday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals after injuring a finger on his left hand while diving into third base during the first inning of Wednesday's game in Atlanta. Bryant was immediately removed from that game, had the off-day Thursday, was held out Friday and expected to be sitting again for the second game of this Cubs-Cardinals series.

But that's not the case. Bryant is once again hitting second and playing third base after missing only 17.5 innings with a finger issue that looked awfully scary when it initially occured.

Bryant also rolled his ankle when he stepped awkwardly on third base in Washington at the end of last month, but returned ahead of schedule then, too.

When discovering Bryant was returning to the lineup so soon, one Cubs staffer shook his head and described the superstar as a freak of nature.

"Some good supplements right there, man," Joe Maddon said. "That's that good fish oil. Yeah, it's nice that he came back so quickly. It happened with the ankle, too.

"I talked to him on the bench [Friday] and we just decided to wait 'til today to decide whether or not he can play or not. Texted [Cubs trainer PJ Mainville] this morning as I was doing the lineup. I sent a preliminary lineup [Friday night] possibly with him and then all of a sudden, he's fine.

"He took some BP in the cage. Of course, it's still a little bit sore — it's not 100 percent — but he's ready to go, so we put him out there."

The Cubs need Bryant in the lineup as often as possible right now as they attempt to claw their back into first place following a subpar first half. The Cardinals have also righted the ship as of late and the Cubs need every win they can muster up against National League Central foes right now.

But of course, the Cubs also want to be playing into November again this seasoon and absolutely need Bryant healthy and producing.

So how do they manage the desire to play him now while also looking out for his well-being two or three months down the line?

"There's a difference between pain and soreness," Maddon said. "If a guy's actually in pain, you don't want him to play. If he describes it as being sore, then it's OK to go ahead and play him.

"So it's more of a soreness as opposed to a pain, so in those circumstances, it's up to the player himself. Of course, we want him out there and we would not put him at risk. At the end of the day, the conversation between him and the trainer and then what I can glean of it, you try to make your best decision.

"But for me, the player has to understand the difference between pain and soreness. Soreness plays."

With Kyle Hendricks back in the mix, Cubs set rotation for Crosstown series with White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Kyle Hendricks back in the mix, Cubs set rotation for Crosstown series with White Sox

Kyle Hendricks is finally making his return to the Cubs' starting rotation.

Hendricks, last year's ERA champ who's been on the disabled list since June 5 with tendinitis in his right hand, will start Monday's series-opener with the White Sox at Wrigley Field, the first game of this season's Crosstown series.

Hendricks' return should provide a big boost to a rotation that struggled to find consistency during the Cubs' sub-.500 first half. Combined with the acquisition of Jose Quintana and the better-of-late pitching of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, Hendricks' return should make for a formidable starting five as the Cubs enter what could be a knock-down, drag-out, months-long race for the National League Central crown.

Hendricks' 2017 hasn't looked much like his 2016 — something that could be said for many Cubs players during this slow-to-get-going quest for a World Series repeat — with the righty boasting a 4.09 ERA in his first 11 starts. After finishing third in NL Cy Young voting last season, he surely won't come close to that this time around, but the Cubs are hoping simply for a return to normalcy, which would go a long way in stabilizing that starting staff, the inconsistency of which was likely the team's biggest problem through the season's first three months.

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That rotation lines up like this moving forward: After Hendricks pitches against the White Sox on Monday, it will be John Lackey in the second game on the North Side, with Arrieta and Lester pitching the two Crosstown games Wednesday and Thursday on the South Side. Quintana won't pitch against his former team, throwing Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals and then, presumably, the first of next weekend's three-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers.

With Hendricks returning to strengthen the rotation, the bullpen also gets a boost with Mike Montgomery returning to the relief corps. He'll be available out of the 'pen as soon as Saturday, manager Joe Maddon said before the Cubs' second game against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. The bullpen also received the addition of Felix Pena, called up from Triple-A Iowa on Saturday, with infielder Tommy La Stella sent down. The bullpen could use an immediate influx of assistance after Friday's nightmarish eighth inning, in which Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm combined to yield nine runs.

Between Kris Bryant returning to the Cubs' lineup Saturday, Hendricks returning to the rotation Monday and the team's recent six-game winning streak that has them a game out of first place, things are starting to look a little more like they were expected to look for the defending champs.