Marmol at ease in coveted position
All-Star selection spurs Cubs righty to claim closer role
MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Marmol was struggling in early July 2008. In three consecutive appearances from June 28-July 3, the Cubs' prime setup man gave up five runs over two innings, and suffered a loss and a blown save.
He wasn't feeling too good about himself when Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild pulled Marmol aside at Wrigley Field. Manager Lou Piniella wanted to see him.
"Larry told me, 'Come into Lou's office,'" Marmol said. "In my mind, I thought, 'Oh, they're going to send me down.'"
Just before Marmol and Rothschild walked into Piniella's office, the pitcher stopped to ask if he was headed to Triple-A Iowa.
"Larry said, 'No, are you crazy?'" Marmol said, smiling.
Instead, Piniella and Rothschild told Marmol he was headed to the All-Star Game, his first, as a late addition to the National League team.
"I'll never forget that day," Marmol said. "Then I had a good second half."
He hasn't looked back. The right-hander heads into the 2010 season as the Cubs' closer. The last two springs, he's had to compete for the job, losing in '08 to Kerry Wood and in '09 to Kevin Gregg. Now, it's his. And the All-Star nomination was one step in his development.
"It helped me be more relaxed," said Marmol, who is scheduled to pitch in his first spring game of the season Saturday. "Being in the All-Star Game, every player there is the best. It helped me a lot. I got more comfortable and more confidence."
He's been one of the top setup pitchers in the game, and his 161 relief appearances since 2008 are second-most in the Major Leagues. He is tied with Kyle Farnsworth for the all-time franchise mark with 73 holds.
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This spring, Marmol does seem more at ease.
"He had a lot going on last year, trying to decide on the [World Baseball Classic] and all that," Rothschild said Wednesday of the pitcher who did pitch for the Dominican Republic. "He's worked and he's getting himself ready to go."
Having the job he's coveted has definitely helped Marmol's mindset.
"It might [be the reason]," Rothschild said. "But he's always competed well. He's a guy who we've brought in for the better part of three years to face the best hitters in the eighth inning. He's always competed. Maybe coming in here knowing it's his job, getting himself ready and working on the things he needs to work on to make sure he has a good year, yeah, he might be [more comfortable]."
Rothschild remembers the day Marmol found out he was an All-Star. He was one of eight Cubs to be named that year.
"As well as he had pitched, he's still a young pitcher and even young players aren't sure of themselves and what's going to happen and what could happen," Rothschild said. "He went from Des Moines to the All-Star Game."
And he did so in a couple of minutes.
"Considering how long he'd been a pitcher and how far he'd come, he deserved it," Rothschild said.
Marmol has come a long way from his days as a catcher in the Cubs' system. He took over as the closer last Aug. 18, replacing Gregg, and went 11-for-11 in save situations. Hitters didn't like it when he came into games in the eighth. They won't like it any more with him coming in in the ninth. Batters have a career .181 average against him.
"I feel 100 percent better," Marmol said of this spring versus the past two years. "I've got the confidence I want to throw strikes. If I stay that way, everything will be fine."
Knowing he has the job makes it easier to come to the ballpark.
"That's true," he said. "I feel very good at this point that I don't have to fight for a job. It makes me more comfortable."
Wrigley Field fans have been tough on closers in past years. Just ask Gregg, Ryan Dempster, who had the job in 2008, or LaTroy Hawkins. There isn't much tolerance for errors.
"I know," Marmol said. "I'll go out there and give 100 percent and whatever happens, happens. I'll try to keep it a close game and keep the fans happy."
He's got some support. Hall of Famer and countryman Juan Marichal told Marmol a couple years ago in the Dominican Republic that he had the stuff to be a successful Major League closer.
"He always talks to me," Marmol said of Marichal. "That's what he told me is I have the ability to be a closer and the stuff, and that's what I'm trying to do. That's what I want to do."
That's what he'll try to do this year for the Cubs.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.