Piniella lays out NLDS bullpen blueprint
Samardzija, Howry in; vet starter Marquis shifting to relief role
MILWAUKEE -- Jeff Samardzija is in. So is Bob Howry. But Cubs manager Lou Piniella wanted to wait before he officially listed who will be in the bullpen when the Cubs open the National League Division Series on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
"I think for the most part, pitching-wise, we've made all the decisions we need to make," Piniella said Saturday. "Unless there was an injury, I think we're pretty well decided."
Piniella did confirm Samardzija, the rookie right-hander who was called up in late July and has held hitters to a .226 average over 26 games, will be included on the postseason roster. On Friday, the Cubs manager said Howry was in. The veteran has struggled, but does have experience and has not given up a run in his past seven appearances.
But Piniella would not announce the final 11-man postseason pitching staff until after a Sunday meeting with general manager Jim Hendry. The Cubs will have a slightly different look compared to the 2007 playoff roster.
"Last year, [Ryan] Dempster was in the bullpen closing, instead of starting," Piniella said. "That's probably the biggest difference. We had [Kerry] Wood back there, Howry, [Carlos] Marmol. It's a lot the same look."
Wood now is the closer, while Dempster will be starting Game 1 Wednesday for the NL Central champs. If the Cubs go with 11 pitchers, Chad Gaudin and Michael Wuertz may be the odd men out, but Piniella said they might keep extra pitchers in case they're needed for the second round of the playoffs.
Expect left-handers Sean Marshall and Neal Cotts in the 'pen as well as Jason Marquis, who was 11-9 with a 4.43 ERA in 28 starts this season.
"Starting's my passion, starting is what I feel my best at," Marquis said Saturday. "But we have four pretty good starters, too. We all have confidence in each other. They made a decision to go with the other four [starters], and that's fine."
Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly will start the first four games of the best of five series.
"I feel comfortable going into the bullpen," Marquis said. "I feel I can help this team get to where it needs to go in that role. I'm preparing myself for that, and we'll go from there."
The right-hander could make a relief appearance either Saturday or Sunday in the final regular-season games to get used to pitching out of the 'pen. He'd prefer Sunday.
"I think the closer you pitch to the series, the more fresh you are and the better feel you have for the release point and delivery," Marquis said. "Today, tomorrow -- either way, I'll be ready to go. I'm excited to get this under way. I told [Piniella] if there's any change of plans, I'm ready to go. I'm ready to take the ball, starting role, bullpen role, to help this team."
Having a veteran such as Marquis as a backup is a nice luxury. He's also become somewhat of a good-luck charm. Since he broke into the big leagues in 2000, his team has reached the postseason every year.
"I don't know about that," Marquis said. "My luck, my ability can contribute to getting a World Championship."
He's been more consistent in the second half this season than years past, compiling a 5-4 record and 4.41 ERA over 11 starts.
"It's been a lot more productive," Marquis said. "I went back and looked over the last two, three years to see why I've struggled in the second half, and what I came up with was it was more of the mental approach in terms of just getting too far ahead of myself and looking at the big picture instead of focusing on the little things. I think that paid off, and I'll keep working to get better to get into the playoffs next year."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.