Chicago Cubs

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.

Wade Davis is the big-game hunter Cubs need now - and maybe in the future

wadedaviscubs.jpg
USA TODAY

Wade Davis is the big-game hunter Cubs need now - and maybe in the future

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The origin story of Wade Davis transforming into a dominant closer goes back several years ago and involves a black bear on Canadian hunting grounds about 90 minutes outside of Toronto.

This is the rare animal that didn’t make the video tribute the Tampa Bay Rays cut for Cubs manager Joe Maddon when their ex-zookeeper returned this week to Tropicana Field. But if Davis could stay cool facing a 300-something-pound beast, Maddon reasoned, then a late-inning jam shouldn’t seem so daunting.

“You don’t get much reaction from Wade,” Dave Martinez, Maddon’s longtime bench coach, said on the Cubs Talk podcast. “What you see is what you get. I (asked): ‘Hey, I got a place to go bear hunting, you guys want to go?’

“If you can imagine (Wade) and Jeff Niemann — Jeff Niemann’s 6-10 — they sat up in a tree stand. They saw a black bear come out and he shot it. I wish we had the video. The video’s floating around somewhere.

“We were just talking about it the other day. (Former Rays travel director) Jeff Ziegler went with us, too, and he never did get his bear rug. And he got a little bent out of shape about it.”

Martinez doesn’t know where that trophy wound up. But Davis remains the big-game hunter the Cubs need now — and maybe for the future.

“I’m not thinking past the next two weeks, honestly,” team president Theo Epstein said. “It’s bad form to be talking about offseason stuff at this time of the year.

“He’s had a great year. He’s been perfect in save situations. He’s been a leader out there. Any team would love to have him. But we’re not into the winter yet.”

Are the Cubs willing to pay the price for an All-Star, World-Series-tested closer? Can they afford not to?

Epstein’s front office has been philosophically opposed to making long-term investments in closers. But the Cubs are running out of young hitters to trade for short-term fixes, shipping an elite prospect (Gleyber Torres) to the New York Yankees in last summer’s blockbuster Aroldis Chapman deal and getting Davis by moving a diminishing asset (Jorge Soler) to the Kansas City Royals in a winter-meetings swap.

The Cubs also haven’t seen that alternative ninth-inning solution organically develop this season. It’s hard to picture the Cubs just handing Carl Edwards Jr. the closer’s job heading into his second full season in the big leagues. Pedro Strop also looks more like a very good setup guy than a first-choice candidate to be the 2018 closer.

Justin Wilson (5.79 ERA) hasn’t distinguished himself since coming over from the Detroit Tigers at the July 31 trade deadline, the Cubs now using the lefty reliever in low-leverage/mop-up situations to help restore his game. Hector Rondon — who has 77 saves in a Cubs uniform and a checkered medical history — is dealing with right elbow inflammation.

All those moving pieces make Davis (32-for-32 in save chances) an anchor heading into the four-game showdown against the Milwaukee Brewers that begins Thursday night at Miller Park, where Jake Arrieta will be making his first start since straining his right hamstring on Labor Day and limited to 75-80 pitches.

The Cubs have a 3.5-game lead on a Brewers team that hasn’t gone away yet and a single-digit magic number (eight) to clinch the National League Central. Maddon has already signaled that he will deploy Davis for multiple innings when necessary.

“It’s a good feeling to know that he can do it,” Martinez said. “But all in all, you still have to have these other guys contribute, which they have, and get all the bullpen onboard.

“Now each moment is critical and moving forward they’re going to be put in some pretty tough situations. Each one of them has to step up and do their jobs.

“Do we count on Wade? Absolutely. But we also count on these other guys to go out there and perform.”

During the All-Star festivities in Miami, Davis said “some of that seems unrealistic” when asked about the massive free-agent contracts the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers gave Chapman (five years, $86 million) and Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million) last winter.

But this October will be another huge platform for Davis, who said it already felt like that all season at Wrigley Field.

“Every game, there’s always a constant buzz here,” Davis said. “They’re into it. They’re getting loud. It’s a great atmosphere all year long.”

What’s wrong with Jon Lester? And is there enough time for Cubs to fix it?

What’s wrong with Jon Lester? And is there enough time for Cubs to fix it?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Even in the good times, Jon Lester doesn’t really have great body language, trying to channel his emotions, use that competitive anger and stay focused on the next pitch, so there was no way for him to hide his frustrations this time.

Lester handed the ball to manager Joe Maddon on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field and trudged back toward the visiting dugout with his head down and his team down six runs in the fifth inning of an 8-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that left the Cubs searching for answers.

What’s wrong with Lester? That question snapped the Cubs out of a seven-game winning streak, the talk about playoff rotations and the computer simulations that project the defending World Series champs as a 90-something percent lock to make the postseason again.

The good news for the Cubs is the Milwaukee Brewers failed to gain ground heading into the four-game showdown that begins Thursday night at Miller Park. The magic number to clinch the National League Central is eight after Milwaukee’s 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But it’s difficult to see the Cubs going on a long October run when Lester – a three-time World Series champion and the Game 1 starter in all three playoff rounds last year – looks this lost. Since coming off the disabled list – the Cubs termed it left lat tightness/general shoulder fatigue – Lester has made four September starts vs. non-contenders and given up 27 hits and 12 walks in 21.1 innings.

“We’re not going to go make excuses and say that’s why I didn’t throw the ball well,” Lester said. “Physically, it’s September. You’re going to have ups and downs. I feel fine. There’s no lingering effects from anything. No, there’s nothing physically wrong.”

Are you convinced Lester is 100 percent healthy?

“He’s not saying anything,” Maddon said. “I don’t see any grimace and I don’t see any like hitch in the giddy-up. I don’t see anything. Since he’s come back, he’s had some wins, but none of them have been necessarily Jon Lester sharp.”

At a time when the $155 million ace is supposed to be building toward October, Lester didn’t have any rhythm – Steven Souza Jr. launched a 92-mph fastball over the fence in left-center field in the first inning – or the stuff to finish off the Rays (zero strikeouts, 23 batters faced).

Lester did his John Lackey impression in the second inning, screaming, stomping and staring when Brad Miller chopped a ball that bounced past first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s glove and into right field for a 2-0 lead.

The Rays have enough history with Lester after their battles against the Boston Red Sox in the American League East and appeared to try to get in his head. Peter Bourjos dropped a perfect bunt, Kevin Kiermaier knocked another RBI single up the middle and Lester escaped only when second baseman Javier Baez started an inning-ending double play on the other side of the bag.

By the fifth inning, Lester was hesitating and making two wobbly throws while Souza stole second and third base. Lester then drilled Evan Longoria’s left foot with a pitch and walked Logan Morrison to load the bases. Wilson Ramos finally knocked out Lester after 86 pitches with a two-run single into right field.

“Obviously, there is some concern,” Maddon said. “I don’t have any reason to give you – other than he had a tough night – and I don’t know why. It just looked different from the side, because we’re normally used to seeing sharp-cornered pitches and a little bit better velocity with everything. It just wasn’t there.”

Lester now has only two regular-season starts left to find it and fix this.

“I’m not worried about it,” Lester said. “When you pitch a long time, and you play this game a long time, you’re going to have the ups and downs. Anybody can have one good year. It’s a matter of going out there and consistently doing it.

“You got to take the good with the bad. We’ll make an adjustment and figure it out. The good thing is it’s not physical. It’s just a matter of getting back to what has been working for me in the past and making those adjustments.”