CINCINNATI – One day after he talked about his patience as a manager, Dale Sveum reached his limit with combustible closer ÂCarlos Marmol.
The Cubs manager appears on the verge of demoting his $20 million closer after another walk-filled ninth inning that blew a three-run lead and cost a chance at their first winning road trip in a year.
“There’s definitely a thought of it now, I can’t lie to you,” Sveum said after Marmol failed to retire any of the five batters he faced Thursday to ruin the dominant return from the disabled list by Ryan Dempster.
Sveum said James Russell – the only left-hander in his bullpen – and rookie Rafael Dolis are the options he would consider, leaving former All-Star closer Kerry Wood out of the discussion in the aftermath of a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
“That’s about it, really,” Sveum said. “Those two other options if we do elect to go with a change, or just use matchups [for] whatever Âhappens in that ninth inning.”
Wood, who has dealt with a balky shoulder since spring training, was activated Thursday from the DL.
Beyond the short-term issue of his role in the bullpen, Marmol’s continued struggles – a carryover from last season – are dealing a serious blow to his value.
Even with five or six potential contenders with closer needs, the Cubs will have trouble finding takers if they want to trade him, especially with more than $15.5 million left on a contract that runs through next season.
Marmol walked three in the ninth, including the first two batters of the inning on nine pitches. When he walked another with the bases loaded to make the score 3-2, he was done, in favor of Dolis – avoiding the blown save only because he pitched poorly enough to get yanked before the tying run scored on an ensuing double play.
“If you’re closing games you have to throw strikes. That’s just the bottom line,” said Sveum, who called the ninth “the same story again” with Marmol. “Closers have to throw strikes.”
Marmol took over the staff lead with 12 walks – two more than starters Paul Maholm or Jeff Samardzija – in 8â€‰2/3 innings. He has blown two of his four official save chances and has a 6.23 ERA.
“You lose a game like that – I’m embarrassed right now,” said Marmol, who also seemed to doubt his confidence level: “I can’t tell you right now, man.”
On the likelihood he’ll lose his closer’s job: “Well, he’s the manager, he can do whatever he wants to do. I agree with whatever he wants to do. I’ll take the ball whenever he asks me to.”
Always a pitcher whose mechanics made it hard to stay consistent, Marmol’s biggest problems seemed to start almost as soon as he signed a three-year, $20 million deal following a 38-save season in 2010 in which he set a major-league record with 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings.
He led the National League with 10 blown saves and had his worst ERA as a reliever (4.01) in 2011 –including an 0-4, 5.91 second half that included four blown saves in 19 chances.
“You’ve got to throw strikes, and you’ve got to throw strikes with your fastball,” said Sveum, who has made that a point of emphasis with Marmol since the season started. “It’s the same story again. Throwing 3-0 sliders [to Joey Votto] when you have three-run leads, that’s just not acceptable. We’ve got to somehow make some adjustments there.”
Dempster, who remains winless in four starts despite a 0.95 ERA, said he feels for Marmol, having spent three years as the Cubs’ closer.
“I know he’s struggling,” he said. “He’ll get there. He’s just got to keep working hard and just got to push through it. You can either back down and be afraid of the challenge, or you can take the challenge head-on, and hopefully he does that.”