PITTSBURGH – The Cubs shredded their blueprint for the bullpen weeks ago.
Manager Dale Sveum put Carlos Marmol on notice in the ninth inning here on Opening Day and dropped him as closer five games into the season. Kyuji Fujikawa’s right elbow started “barking” in spring training and forced him onto the disabled list in mid-April. Around that time, the front office signed Kevin Gregg off the street and watched him go 6-for-6 in save chances and post a 0.00 ERA through 11 innings.
The latest head-scratching moment came Wednesday, when the Cubs put Shawn Camp on the disabled list with a sprained right big toe (and a 7.56 ERA) and called up Rafael Dolis from Triple-A Iowa. This was the day after they activated Matt Garza and officially designated for assignment middle reliever Michael Bowden, who was spotted packing up his stuff after Sunday’s game at Wrigley Field.
Why wait until after Garza’s return to the rotation? Why not DL Camp on Tuesday?
“Because we didn’t know about it,” Sveum said before a 1-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
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Sveum said Camp had been bothered by it for about a month and dealt with similar problems earlier in his career with the Toronto Blue Jays. Sveum also said the organization didn’t know the full extent of the injury because Camp followed the code and waited until Sunday to get treatment for it.
“A lot of players are going to do everything they can to stay out of the training room (and) play through things,” Sveum said. “Sometimes it (gets) to the point where (you say): ‘OK, I got to get something done.’
“You don’t realize how bad it is or how it’s affecting people unless they let you know.”
The Cubs held a closed-door meeting with their relievers in the manager’s office before Wednesday’s game. It only lasted three minutes and defined roles for the pitchers. The main takeaway was that Carlos Villanueva will be used in higher-leverage situations depending on the matchups – and not simply as a long man after getting bumped from the rotation.
Six different pitchers have blown 10 saves for a team that’s 6-12 in one-run games. If the Cubs are going to see their luck balance out anytime soon, it will be without Camp.
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Last season Sveum had talked up Camp’s “rubber arm” and called him one of the team’s MVPs for appearing in 80 games. But after Camp gave up a grand slam in Tuesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Pirates, Sveum mentioned the loss of velocity, how the 37-year-old reliever’s “having trouble getting the ball to 87 mph.”
The day after, Sveum said there are no issues with Camp’s right arm and theorized that this injury prevented him from pushing off and generating power from his legs.
Camp – who traveled back to Chicago and was not available to the media on Wednesday – didn’t like the questions after his third blown save. He called pitch selection “irrelevant” and indicated there were no mechanical issues. He declined to explain the drop in velocity or how the bullpen’s struggles as a whole magnified everything. He also didn’t make any excuses late Tuesday night.
“I really don’t even know what to say about it,” Camp said.