SEATTLE – Cubs managers should get the before-and-after pictures, like presidents, to see how much they’ve aged on the job.
The Seattle Mariners entered this weekend 0-34 when trailing after eight innings. They followed up Friday night’s comeback victory by ending Kevin Gregg’s almost perfect run as closer.
Gregg had gone 12-for-12 in save chances until Saturday’s ninth inning at Safeco Field, where he became the eighth Cubs reliever to blow a save this season. Blake Parker wound up notching his first career big-league save in the 11th inning, and this 5-3 victory could have been a preview of the team after the trade deadline.
“I’m going to have to start shaving my head and face completely, so you can’t see all the gray,” Dale Sveum said.
That’s how Sveum summed up Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, a night where the Cubs manager didn’t have to defend his bullpen or his decision-making process.
But it’s been like this all season. Gregg walked Henry Blanco on Saturday before giving up a two-out, line-drive, game-tying RBI single to Endy Chavez, who had been in an 0-for-19 slump.
Imagine the stress levels if/when Gregg gets traded, because at that point there would be no obvious answers for the ninth inning.
“It would be tough to replace,” Sveum said. “I guess maybe you could look at Parker because he’s done it in Triple-A if those things do come to light. But you obviously got to use somebody, so it will all be a wait-and-see situation.”
The Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies are two teams that have already been linked to Gregg leading up to the July 31 deadline. This front office won’t hesitate to flip short-term veterans for prospects, and Gregg (1.71 ERA) has built value after getting released by the Los Angeles Dodgers and signing a minor-league contract with the Cubs (34-45) in mid-April.
“You have a (sense of) calm because you know he’s not going to implode with walks,” Sveum said. “They’re going to have to get their hits to beat him. The times he’s given up a run, they’ve hit the ball. He hasn’t walked guys or those kind of things. He knows how to pitch. He knows: 'If I throw strikes, they gotta get hits to beat me.’ We’ve seen many, many closers over the years do a nice job just because they don’t walk anybody.”
Sveum didn’t intend to take a shot at Carlos Marmol, the lightning-rod reliever recently designated for assignment, but it sounded that way with the implicit comparison. Marmol took all the heat, yet the Cubs bullpen has gone 17-for-33 overall in save chances this season.
Losing close games late can have a devastating effect on the clubhouse. No one has gone Carlos Zambrano and given a “We stinks!” rant. And Sveum said it hasn’t hurt clubhouse morale.
But you did hear a loud crash in Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse – as well as Alfonso Soriano’s pointed criticism – after Marmol’s tipping-point loss to the New York Mets on June 16. Building frustration will be something to monitor.
“You want to see your players are really upset after a bad loss,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Apathy is sort of the worst thing you could ever have. We don’t ever want to have that. At the same time, players are busting their butt out there trying to succeed, so it is always a fine line.
“You never want to show up a teammate. You never want to call out a teammate. But at the same time, you want to show your competitiveness. You want guys to be fighting.”
James Russell, one of the team’s most reliable relievers, blew his fifth save during Friday night’s 5-4 loss to the Mariners. Parker stranded two runners in the eighth inning, pitched a scoreless ninth and wound up taking the loss in the 10th.
Parker, 28, has saved 41 games at Iowa across the past five seasons. Sveum said he’s not making an effort to put Parker (2.19 ERA through 11 games) in higher-leverage situations.
“He’s just kind of earned that now with the way our bullpen sets up,” Sveum said. “He’s done it in Triple-A and his velocity’s back. He’s developed that split-finger fastball that’s helping him out a lot at this level. He deserves to be one of those guys in the late innings.”
Cubs fans don’t have Marmol to kick around anymore. Kyuji Fujikawa is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Gregg could be heading to a contender. Sveum will have to give someone the ball in the ninth inning. It could soon be “Parker Time.”
“It’s a position I’m comfortable in, for sure, going into tight situations,” Parker said. “(That’s) where any competitor wants to be. It’s for all the marbles and everything’s on the line. That’s usually when most people are at their best. That’s where I feel comfortable.”