The right stuff: Marmol built for the ninth inning

The right stuff: Marmol built for the ninth inning

Saturday, April 16, 2011
Posted: 8:53 p.m. Updated: 10:13 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

DENVER No one talks to Carlos Marmol when he does his job.

The media herd backed away after the Cubs closer finished dissecting his first blown save of the season. Marmol looked them over and said: I want to see you all here tomorrow when I strike out the side.

Marmol wasnt trying to intimidate anyone. He wasnt being defensive. He was looking forward to a new day.

I try to be funny sometimes, Marmol said. Im not a funny guy, but I try to (be one). I was joking around. That doesnt bother me. Ill talk about whatevers bad, whatevers good. Im going to be here for you guys.

Marmol is confident, low-maintenance and fearless. He usually punctuates his thoughts with a laugh or a smile or a curse word. He hates getting booed at Wrigley Field. Win or lose, you always know where to find him standing at his locker ready to answer questions.

Ozzie Guillen was right the other day when he said that a closer in Chicago needs to have guts. But the White Sox manager was wrong to think that Marmol doesnt face his critics or gets a free pass because he doesnt understand English.

The meltdowns the White Sox bullpen has experienced in the seasons first two weeks reminded you how valuable Marmol will be for the Cubs.

The sample size is too small to say definitively that Matt Thornton cant close on the South Side, and its too early to declare Sergio Santos or Chris Sale absolutely ready for the job. But theres no denying the corrosive effects losing late leads can have on a clubhouse.

As a player, when youre winning a ballgame into the ninth inning, its tough to lose (like that), Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. The closers know it and thats why when youre a good one, you get paid. You make good money because there arent too many good ones out there.

General manager Jim Hendry recognized that when he gave Marmol a three-year, 20 million deal in February. The Cubs have known Marmol since he signed with the organization as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic.

The Cubs couldnt know for certain that Marmol would have what it takes to be a closer he was a converted position player but eventually they had a pretty good idea he could handle it.

When discussing potential trades several years ago, the front office made Marmol untouchable, off-limits to any team scouting the minor-league system. Since taking over as closer in August 2009, Marmol has converted 91 percent of his save opportunities (53-for-58).

Hes got the stuff and hes got the attitude, Ramirez said. To be a closer anywhere, you got to have the kind of mentality that he has. Not only in Chicago. To be a closer in Pittsburgh, you got to have (it). Anywhere you close, its tough, man. When you blow it, you got to be ready for the next day.

So when Marmol loses the game like he did on April 3 against the Pittsburgh Pirates he will go out to dinner and watch a movie at home. He will go to work on April 4 as if nothings happened and finish off the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Same routine, Marmol said. I dont change.

There will be times where Marmol looks helpless on the mound. He has no feel for his slider and cant find the strike zone. But that unpredictability how sharp, where and when the slider will break makes him almost unhittable.

In the end, Marmol understands how this works. The closer has become so automatic that its only a story when he blows a save.

Of course, Marmol said with a laugh one day, sitting at his locker. I want all you (expletive) here. I strike out the side and nobody talks to me.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."