Lost Marmol tries to forget the past

594648.png

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).

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.