MESA, Ariz. Carlos Marmol has thrown more than 5,800 pitches across the past four seasons. It seems all of them come with a violent delivery, in high-pressure situations and on one of the games biggest stages.
Dale Sveum didnt know the number, but the Cubs manager knew it had to be astronomical. No one has made more relief appearances since the start of the 2008 season than Marmol (313).
Theres a price to be paid for that, but the Cubs think their enigmatic closer can be saved. That means scrapping the cutter Marmol experimented with last season and evolving beyond his killer slider.
Marmol bounced the ball off the rubber and picked it out of the air on Thursday at HoHoKam Stadium. Sveum came out to take it away in the middle of the fifth inning.
Marmol had faced seven hitters and walked back to the dugout in front of 8,580 fans. One slider drilled Casper Wells, and another disappeared after Dustin Ackley lifted it onto the right-field berm for a three-run homer.
At this point, the numbers getting two outs, giving up four runs on four hits in a 10-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners dont matter.
I dont really care, Marmol said, because Im working on fastballs right now and trying to locate my fastball. I didnt get good results today."
Marmol led the majors with 10 blown saves last season and appeared to struggle with his confidence. This after a brilliant 2010 season in which he converted 38-of-43 save chances and notched 138 strikeouts in 77.2 innings.
Marmols average fastball dipped down to 91.8 mph last season, according to the online database at FanGraphs, after averaging out at 94.1, 93.9 and 94.0 the previous three seasons.
The Cubs explain away the variance with the cutter Marmol was messing around with last year. Sveum has noticed the velocity is back up to 94 mph in camp.
The bottom line is his fastball command, Sveum said. He needs to get back in counts, get ahead with his fastball, stay away from the walks. People are a little more onto the slider now that hes gotten older and people can sit on it.
I witnessed K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez) doing it last year when we got him (in Milwaukee). He started using his fastball a heck of a lot more. You can tell people were sitting on his slow stuff and bam! heres a strike fastball. A couple years ago it was pretty much 80, 90 percent all breaking balls.
There are times where you got to adjust to the league, because theyre starting to adjust to you as well.
The Cubs need Marmol to figure it out because they have four open spots in a bullpen that lost Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner. Sveum will have to manage Kerry Woods workload, and left-hander James Russell is hoping to get into more high-leverage situations as a setup man.
The bullpen is a big question mark right now, Sveum said. We all know if (Jeff) Samardzija ends up being a starter, that (creates) a hole there, too.Kerry Wood is definitely our eight-inning guy right now, and you got to be careful with that.
You just got to make sure if you get him up, you get him in the game. Tell him the days off, even though hes going to say, Yeah, Im OK. Well, thats OK, but youre not pitching today.
The endgame starts with Marmol, who was asked: Can you still be the same guy who was so dominant in 2010?
Im working hard for that, Marmol said, to try to be consistent with my slider, my fastball, (so) every time I go out there everybody believes in me.