CHICAGO – Reliever Carlos Marmol stood in front of his locker in the Cubs’ clubhouse trying to explain another outing that quickly turned bad.
Marmol didn’t delve into a deep discussion as to why he again couldn’t locate his fastball or slider in the strike zone Saturday against the Reds. For Marmol, it simply came down to an inability to throw a strike. Marmol faced only three batters, but it was enough to load the bases and ultimately led to a four-run eighth inning in the Reds’ 6-4 comeback win.
"He's not executing,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He's not throwing the ball over the plate. It doesn't matter what pitch is called."
Marmol, who took the loss, walked two batters to start the inning – he threw four consecutive balls to Zack Cozart to lead it off – and then hit Brandon Phillips on a 1-2 pitch to load the bases. Sveum had seen enough of Marmol at that point and yanked him from the game. A majority of the 36,455 fans at Wrigley Field booed Marmol as he walked to the dugout.
“I go out there and give 100 percent,” Marmol said after the game. “I don't think anything bad's going to happen. I don't think I'm going to walk people.”
Asked if Marmol, who makes $9.8 million in the final year of his deal, is a lost cause at this point, Sveum hesitated.
"He's still got stuff, so I'm not jumping to any conclusions,” Sveum said. “It gets tough to have any confidence in him.”
Sveum didn’t specify what situations Marmol will pitch in going forward, only that one way or another “he’s got to get fixed.” It’s difficult to envision Marmol being used in a crucial situation any time soon. While he hadn’t allowed a run in his previous 10 outings entering Saturday’s game, Marmol had given up five hits and walked eight in those appearances. After Saturday’s debacle, Marmol owns a 6.17 ERA and has walked 12 and hit three batters in 11 2/3 innings.
“Any pitcher would appreciate that any time you walk two guys and hit one when you get a chance to get out of there,” Marmol said. “But it [stinks] because you get yourself in trouble without anybody else.”
Marmol has caught plenty of flak for his bouts of wildness during his eight-year career with the Cubs. However, despite the struggles he has endured the past two seasons in particular, Marmol became the Cubs’ all-time leader in relief appearances against the Reds. Marmol passed Lee Smith with his 453rd relief outing.
Before the game, Marmol said reaching that milestone would be amazing and makes him proud. But now, his record appearance encapsulates what has always been Marmol’s downfall: a propensity to throw the ball, not pitch. This time it cost starter Jeff Samardzija his first win since Opening Day.
“It's out of your hands at that point,” said Samardzija, who surrendered two runs in six innings. “If you don't want that to happen, pitch deeper into the game … be more efficient with your pitches.”
At some point, Sveum will call on Marmol because he really doesn’t have many better options in the bullpen. Right-hander Shawn Camp, coming off a career-high and league-leading 80 appearances last season, has been nearly as unreliable as Marmol. Camp owns a 7.15 ERA, having allowed nine runs in 11 1/3 innings. Michael Bowden, Hector Rondon and Kameron Loe are primarily used when the Cubs are losing while James Russell, their most consistent pitcher, is the only left-hander in the bullpen, which makes it difficult to save him for late in the game. That leaves Kevin Gregg as the only other late-inning choice until Kyuji Fujikawa returns from the disabled list.
The Cubs' hodge-podge bullpen can take the brunt of the blame for their nine losses in games they led at some point. Sveum deserves some of the blame, too, for believing Marmol could work out of the trouble he found himself in during the eighth inning Saturday. But Sveum often has one bad option after another in a bullpen that can't seem to give the Cubs a chance to win.
“It’s happened too many times, not [just] to him but the whole team,” outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. “Sometimes we’re not getting the big hit, and sometimes we’re not getting the big out. That’s the difference in a first-place team and a last-place team.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Sox Insider and Inside the Cubs blogs at NWHerald.com and on Twitter @Sox_Insider and @InsideTheCubs.