CHICAGO -- Cubs closer Carlos Marmol is striking out batters at a record-setting pace.
Of the 103 batters the right-hander has faced, he's struck out 49 for 48 percent. The Major League record is 44.8 percent, set in 2003 by Eric Gagne. Only four pitchers have finished the year topping 40 percent.
On Thursday, he added to his stats by striking out the side in the ninth inning of the Cubs' 1-0 win over the Dodgers.
"My command is a little better," said Marmol, who took over the closer's role last year and now has 11 saves in 13 chances. "I feel real good. Right now, I feel confident."
His strikeout pitch is his slider -- "Always," he said, smiling -- but Marmol has better command of his fastball this year, which has helped set up hitters.
"I can throw my fastball with two strikes now," the right-hander said. "I did it a couple times, and it worked out."
His slider was on in the ninth on Thursday. Marmol fell behind pinch-hitter Manny Ramirez, 0-2, which prompted a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
"He told me to focus a little more and throw strikes," Marmol said.
And the right-hander did just that, getting Ramirez out on three straight sliders.
It's only the end of May, but told that he had a chance at Gagne's mark, Marmol grinned. Hitters beware.
"We'll see if I can break that record," Marmol said.
Cubs' rotation cup runneth over
CHICAGO -- Tom Gorzelanny doesn't want to be a reliever. The left-hander has made that clear. But somebody in the Cubs' rotation will be bumped to make room for Carlos Zambrano, and Gorzelanny appears to be the odd man out.
Manager Lou Piniella won't reveal who is changing roles, but the move will be made for the Cubs' next road trip in Pittsburgh, which starts on Monday.
"I don't think anybody deserves it," Piniella said, "but we're not going to have a six-man rotation. Zambrano probably didn't think he deserved it when we took him out. We're in a situation where we have to do something.
"I think truthfully that our starters have done a nice job here for the most part. At the same time, we're going to put Zambrano back in the rotation and we have to create a spot for him."
Zambrano moved to the bullpen on April 22, when Ted Lilly was activated from the disabled list. He has made 11 relief appearances, but was asked to return to the rotation because he didn't feel comfortable in the bullpen.
Carlos Silva is 6-0, and Lilly, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells have been the most consistent starters. Gorzelanny took the loss on Wednesday against the Dodgers, giving up seven runs on seven hits over five-plus innings. He has started 81 of his 98 Major League games, and last year was the first time he pitched more in relief than as a starter. He was 3-1 with a 5.19 ERA in nine appearances with the Pirates before joining the Cubs on July 30.
"Just because somebody is going to be taken out of the rotation doesn't mean you can't help this team out of the bullpen," Piniella said. "Our bullpen could use all the help it could get."
The Cubs relievers rank 12th in the National League with a 4.48 ERA.
Sean Marshall is the perfect example of a pitcher who has accepted being a reliever -- and thrived. Marshall competed for a spot in the rotation this spring, but he's now 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA and the No. 1 setup pitcher for the Cubs.
"This is a guy who's shown to be very unselfish, and he's done a heck of a job," Piniella said of Marshall. "That's what you need when you start talking about a team. You need people who are unselfish and will do the job that's necessary.
"We can't pitch six people -- we cannot pitch six people. We'll pitch five and do what we feel is best and go from there. Just because we do something doesn't mean we can't readjust later on if there's an injury or whatever."
If Gorzelanny is the one who goes into the 'pen, the Cubs will have an overload of left-handers. He'll join Marshall, John Grabow and rookie James Russell. Piniella said the decision won't be based on whether the team needs another lefty or right-hander.
But Zambrano has to hold up his end of the deal, too. He was 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA in four starts before the switch.
"What I'm hoping for is when Zambrano goes into the rotation, he pitches the way he's capable of and runs off some ballgames for us and wins," Piniella said. "That's really the most important thing, and he's certainly very capable of it. The way he's throwing now [out of the 'pen], just carry that forward and he'll get some good results."
Baker to be examined by eye doctor
CHICAGO -- Cubs third baseman Jeff Baker was pulled from Thursday's 1-0 win against the Dodgers because he lost vision in his right eye. He was taken to the team's eye specialist to be examined.
Baker didn't react when the Dodgers' Russell Martin lined a single past him to lead off the eighth inning. Cubs manager Lou Piniella went onto the field to talk to the infielder and then replaced him with Mike Fontenot.
"Baker had vision problems and couldn't see out of his right eye," Piniella said. "It was a little scary."
Baker was examined by Dr. Jon Rosin, the team opthamologist. The club expected to know more on Friday.
"We had to get him out of there," Piniella said of Baker.
Fontenot led off the Chicago eighth with a triple and scored the game-winning run on Tyler Colvin's double in the Cubs' victory.
Aramis may be back this weekend
CHICAGO -- Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez hoped to hit against coaches on Friday and may be available this weekend.
Ramirez has been sidelined with a sprained left thumb and received a cortisone shot to alleviate some of the discomfort.
Cubs manager Lou Piniella thought Ramirez was hitting in the batting cage on Thursday, and the third baseman said he did do some soft-toss drills with coach Rudy Jaramillo.
"I'm assuming he'll be ready to go [Friday], and I'm assuming that possibly he'll be ready to pinch-hit today," Piniella said before Thursday's game.
But Ramirez wasn't called upon in the Cubs' 1-0 win over the Dodgers.
If there is any uncertainty, the Cubs will wait. Ramirez was batting .160 when sidelined. He has not started since Saturday in Arlington.
With Ramirez out, Piniella tweaked his lineup for the series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers and inserted rookie Starlin Castro into the No. 2 spot. It's the first time Castro has batted there against a right-hander. He usually hits eighth against right-handed pitchers and second against left-handers.
Alfonso Soriano did not start on Thursday to get a breather and Mike Fontenot did not start, nursing a bruised hand -- suffered when he was hit by a pitch on Wednesday -- but he entered in the top of the eighth for Jeff Baker, who left with vision problems in his right eye, and scored the game-winning run on Tyler Colvin's RBI double.
Following Thursday's win, the Cubs now are 8-0 when Castro bats second.
Cashner being converted for relief work
CHICAGO -- Cubs first-round pick Andrew Cashner is now in the bullpen for Triple-A Iowa to better prepare the right-hander if he's needed for the big league team.
Cashner is 3-0 with an 0.95 ERA in three starts at Iowa. But the Cubs already have a surplus of starters and the thinking is, it's unfair to throw a young pitcher into a relief situation in the Majors without knowing what it's like to sit in the 'pen or warm up on short notice.
"It surprised me when I first heard about it," Cashner told The Des Moines Register on Wednesday. "I talked [to the Cubs] about going to relief a while back, but it was always their thought that I was going to start. Working out of the bullpen is something that excites me."
The Iowa Cubs did the same thing with Jay Jackson. He was back in the rotation Thursday and started.
"Jackson passed," Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason told the Register. "Now, it's Cashner's turn to see if he can acclimate to the bullpen."
So far, Cashner has started 33 out of his 35 pro appearances since he was the Cubs' first-round pick in 2008.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.