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Closing time: Another meltdown for Marmol in STL

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Closing time: Another meltdown for Marmol in STL

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011Posted: 5:00 p.m. Updated: 6:15 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney
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WATCH: Lopez sums up his season after his final start

ST. LOUIS It made you wonder if Carlos Zambrano was watching at home, chilling on the couch and talking at the screen, mumbling some version of I told you so.

In a season full of rock-bottom moments, one of the most memorable came here inside the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium. Zambrano looked around the room, glanced over at Carlos Marmols locker and delivered his classic We stinks rant.

Zambrano called this a Triple-A team on June 5 after Marmol blew the save. Zambrano will almost certainly never throw another pitch for the Cubs. And at this point, theres only so much they can get worked up over with four days left in the season.

But the next general manager will have to reassess the closer situation in 2012.

Again, Marmol couldnt preserve a one-run lead and finish off the Cardinals in the ninth inning. With a 2-1 comeback victory on Saturday combined with Atlantas loss in Washington St. Louis (87-71) kept its flickering hopes for a wild card alive, two games back with four to play.

When Jim Hendry rewarded Marmol with a three-year, 20 million deal at the start of spring training, the Cubs (70-88) thought they were getting someone whod be a foundation piece on a contender.

No one else in the majors has blown more saves than Marmol (10). The 28-year-old closer has the worst save percentage in the National League (34-for-44; 77 percent).

It goes back to stuff weve talked about all year mechanics, manager Mike Quade said. (He) just wasnt consistent with (the fastball) or his slider. Its a tough nut when youre trying to protect a one-run lead and youre struggling with both pitches.

We need to get it straightened out. All we need to do is get him back to where he was the last few years. And he will.

This one unraveled quickly. Marmol got two outs before loading the bases for Ryan Theriot, a hitter so undisciplined that Lou Piniella used to joke about how he would go from the Kentucky Derby to the Belmont without a walk in between (and hope the Cubs wouldnt have to wait until the Arlington Million before the next one).

Remember how Zambrano called out Marmols pitch selection last time? (We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter.) The ex-Cub didnt swing once during a six-pitch at-bat, forcing in the tying run when Marmol walked the third consecutive batter.

Moments later, Marmol uncorked a wild pitch, and it was game over.

I know theyre taking a lot of pitches, Marmol said. All I have to do is throw strikes.

It ruined six shutout innings from Rodrigo Lopez, an emergency starter who began the year pitching for Atlantas Triple-A affiliate and finishes it with a 6-6 record and a 4.42 ERA.

The 35-year-old right-hander, whos about to become a free agent, took several pictures before Wednesdays final home game at Wrigley Field, so he can show his grandkids that he played there.

We have to wait until we have a new general manager, Lopez said. If it was (up to) me, it would be 100 percent coming back here. (But) right now I guess everythings up in the air.

The same goes for almost every player on this roster.

The next head of baseball operations could look at Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija and figure they have the stuff to close. Sean Marshall and Kerry Wood have done the job before. Marmol will have to impress the new boss.

I dont like the year that I had, Marmol said. Hopefully, next years a better year.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs met to discuss off-field COVID-19 risk: 'You can’t hold these guys’ hands'

Cubs met to discuss off-field COVID-19 risk: 'You can’t hold these guys’ hands'

Major League Baseball hasn’t had teams back on the field for even a week yet and already the Cleveland Indians banned a player from activities after somebody with the club saw a picture on social media of Franmil Reyes at a holiday party over the weekend without a mask.

The 25-year-old outfielder was allowed back into practice Wednesday following a subsequent negative test for COVID-19.

But Reyes just earned a prominent place in every clubhouse conversation over the next few weeks and months about safe practices during a pandemic — at least until the next video or picture surfaces showing a player putting himself and, by extension, teammates at risk.

That’s a conversation the Cubs already had as they convened last week.

“We all sat down and wanted to outline what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable just in terms of safety reasons for us off the field,” Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber said Wednesday. “Because if one guy gets this thing, and you’re asymptomatic and you come to the field and you pass it off to other people, you give it to your teammates, their wives, their kids, grandparents, whatever it is — you don’t want that to happen.

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“We’re going to be as safe as possible through our guidelines and take this very seriously.”

MORE: Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

The Cubs have taken it seriously enough to get through the first two rounds of club-wide coronavirus testing without a player testing positive — the only team, at least in the National League, without a known positive.

“There has to be a certain amount of luck involved in that, let’s be honest,” general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged. “We’re not immune from that. And we’re going to face our challenges with that at some point. I think that’s inevitable.”

The billion-dollar question is whether behavior like Reyes’ is inevitable.

How many club-hopping knuckleheads will it take to bring down a 30-team league effort?

If we find the answer, it won’t come with a punchline. 

Because this isn’t a joke. Just ask Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who did everything right and still contracted a severe, monthlong case of COVID-19 — or ask Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, who’s battling his own rough case now.

“This virus can just pop up out of nowhere and get you,” Schwarber said.

It’s why Cubs star Kris Bryant said this week he considered opting out of playing this season with a newborn at home, echoing concerns and hesitation expressed by players across baseball, from Mike Trout and Buster Posey to those who have in fact declined to play — including David Price, Felix Hernandez, Ian Desmond and Nick Markakis.

MORE: Cubs' Kris Bryant chimes in on testing concerns: 'We've got a big hill to climb'

It’s also why the Cubs have made a point to come to terms as a team — from the top of the front office down through team leadership in the clubhouse — on how seriously they’ll treat the virus and safety protocols.

On Tuesday, when first baseman Anthony Rizzo was scratched from a scrimmage because of back soreness, fill-in P.J. Higgins and the other first baseman for the game, Josh Phegley, improvised at the last-minute and shared a first-baseman’s glove.

That’s against the rules in MLB’s health and safety operations manual.

“We saw that, and it’s been addressed,” manager David Ross said. “I was assured things were sanitized.

“We talked about it.”

That’s just one of countless examples of the micro-challenges players face as they try to perform their most familiar acts on and around a baseball field under conditions that are surreal at best.

And as much stress and anxiety as that already has involved for players — in no small part to MLB’s failures to handle its in-house testing schedule the past week — it figures to increase exponentially when teams start traveling.

And the knucklehead count starts in earnest.

“You can’t hold these guys’ hands. They’re grown men,” Ross said. “But I know this group is a professional group. They understand we’re here to do a job.

“For us to succeed and win, we’re going to have to follow some criteria, and we’re not going to be able to go out to bars. That puts our teammates at risk. That puts people’s family members at risk. We have high-risk teammates; we have guys with high-risk family members at home.

“That would be an extremely selfish move on their part, and I think they understand that.”

Jason Heyward said that’s the benefit of having a veteran team with a group that has been together for years. Bryant said he wants to set an example and be a role model for safe practices. Schwarber said if baseball pulls this off, it can be a role model for the country.

But as everyone involved acknowledges, the league’s effort will only be as strong as its weakest link.

That’s why the Cubs — at least so far — have taken all the uncomfortable new rules so seriously, Schwarber said, “knowing that we can do something special here and we’re going to need every single guy in it at the end of the day. And we’re not going to take any unnecessary risks to put ourselves in jeopardy.”

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Cubs release of Brandon Morrow becomes official

Cubs release of Brandon Morrow becomes official

Contrary to breathless reports Wednesday, the “news” of former Cubs closer Brandon Morrow’s release is anything but news.

Morrow, who signed a minor-league free agent deal with the Cubs over the winter, dealt with chest and calf injuries in February and March. He informed the team in April, soon after the COVID-19 shutdown, that his rehab wasn’t progressing well and he intended to shut it down for 2020.

The move became official June 30 after teams submitted their summer training camp rosters.

“He unfortunately has had a number of issues that he’s been dealing with and we didn’t see it as a realistic scenario where he would contribute this year,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said on July 2. “We certainly wish him the best going forward in and out of baseball.”

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Morrow, 35, has not ruled out trying to pitch again in 2021.

The power-pitching right-hander was dominant the first half of 2018 as the Cubs closer after signing a two-year deal with the club, but injuries derailed the rest of that season and all of 2019.

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