Gregg tabbed as Cubs' new closer
Piniella picks veteran, leaving disappointed Marmol as setup man
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella annointed Kevin Gregg the closer on Sunday and said he'll keep Carlos Marmol in his same setup role. Marmol was disappointed at the news.
Marmol missed time in camp to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and was asked if that might have influenced the team's decision.
"I don't think it would've made a difference," Marmol said. "They knew what they were going to do before I got here. That's why I say there's not competition."
Asked to clarify, Marmol switched his tone.
"I don't know," Marmol said. "I guess we're going to get ready for the season, no matter what. You'll see the same smile. I'll be the same guy. I'll throw my 80 innings, do my job. I can't make their decision. I can't control it."
Gregg, who has 61 saves over the past two seasons, has not given up a run in 8 1/3 innings over nine spring games. Marmol, named to the National League All-Star team last year for the first time, has given up four runs, hit five batters, walked one and given up six hits over eight innings.
In 2008, Marmol led Major League relievers with 114 strikeouts, serving as the setup reliever for Kerry Wood, who happened to be at HoHoKam Park on Sunday for the Cubs' game against the Indians. Wood left via free agency, signing a two-year deal with Cleveland. The Cubs acquired Gregg from Florida for Minor League pitcher Jose Ceda.
"We said we'd let both pitchers compete here this spring, and they both pitched well," Piniella said. "I think leaving Spring Training, we're a better team the way we've put this thing together. What we have to do with Marmol in that setup role is find a couple pitchers who can help him, so we don't have to use him nearly as much as last year. At the same time, we hope to win with enough consistency so both guys get closing opportunities."
Piniella talked to both pitchers before Sunday's game and told Marmol to be patient.
"I said the better he does his job, the better we'll be as a team," Piniella said. "At the same time, I told him not to be disappointed. I told him there's going to be plenty of opportunities down the road to close and just continue to improve and maintain, and a lot of good things will happen to him in his career."
But Marmol was disappointed.
"Disappointed, of course," Marmol said. "I can't control it."
Marmol, 26, is 8-for-11 in his career in save opportunities, while Gregg, 30, is 62-for-77. Gregg wasn't named the Marlins' closer until six weeks into the 2007 season, and he still finished with 32 saves that year.
"It's where I'm comfortable, it's what I've done the last couple years," Gregg said. "I'm excited about a new year and especially being on a healthy leg. That's a big thing for me this year is wanting to be healthy."
Gregg also recognizes how important Marmol is to the Cubs' success. Marmol totaled 30 holds last year, a franchise record.
"I wasn't sure how it would play out," Gregg said of the spring competition. "I know what Marmol's done the last couple years. He's a phenomenal pitcher. Now we have a situation where we keep him in a role where he's been super successful. That vital role he had last year, we'll need him to do the same thing this year. He's a big part of the success of the bullpen. Any time you have a good closer, you have to have a good setup guy."
The Cubs still have other bullpen spots to settle before they break camp on Thursday.
"We're trying to leave here the strongest way we possibly can, and we felt this was the best way to go," Piniella said. "If we have to make adjustments, we will.
"I couldn't go wrong either way. I've thought about this a whole lot. It's tough bringing in a young man [Marmol] who has played such a big role for us the last couple years, but he's young and he'll get plenty of opportunities to close in his career. Right now, we felt the other way would be more beneficial to the team."
The Cubs don't want to overwork Marmol, and hope they can provide enough help from other pitchers this year. Marmol totaled 87 1/3 innings in 2008. So far, Aaron Heilman, Neal Cotts and Luis Vizcaino appear to have made the bullpen.
"We're fortunate to have this guy," Piniella said of Gregg. "He's all business, he goes about it the right way, he works hard and he's got that mentality."
Gregg, feeling better than he has in the past following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the offseason, knows his role well.
"When you're out there in the ninth inning, it's you or nothing," Gregg said. "You're going to be out there to win or we lose. It's a tough situation to be in."
Marmol was hoping he'd get that job, but deferred to Gregg.
"I think it's good for the team," Marmol said. "I guess it's good for the team."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.