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.

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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