No looking back: Marmol ready to lead
Cubs closer in shape physically, mentally as spring arrives
MESA, Ariz. -- Don't bother asking Carlos Marmol about last season. It's over.
"It's gone," the Cubs closer said Sunday. "It's a new year. I want to have a better year than last year. All the negative stuff is gone. I went through a lot."
Did he ever reflect on last season this winter?
"No," he said. "Not at all."
In 2011, Marmol ranked 10th in saves in the National League with 34, but he also blew 10 opportunities, tied for most in the Majors with the Angels' Jordan Walden. His strikeout totals were down, and wild pitches and hits up. He served up five homers, which may not sound like a lot, but in 2010 Marmol gave up one homer in 77 2/3 innings.
It was not a good trend, especially since Marmol is entering year No. 2 of a three-year, $20 million contract that will pay him $7 million this year and $9.8 million in 2013.
It was a roller-coaster ride. Marmol, 29, needed 15 pitches to pick up his first save of the 2011 season on April 2 against the Pirates when he struck out the side. The next day, he blew a save, giving up two runs in the ninth on a Pedro Alvarez single. That ended a string of 18 straight save conversions, dating to Aug. 21, 2010.
On June 4, he faced the Cardinals with the bases loaded and one out in the 10th and escaped. But the next day, he gave up Ryan Theriot's game-tying RBI double with two outs, which prompted Carlos Zambrano's infamous "We stink" postgame comments.
Then Cubs manager Mike Quade decided Marmol needed a breather and the right-hander was removed from the closer's role after a blown save on July 14, when he walked four. He worked on his mechanics with pitching coach Mark Riggins, returned July 31 and converted the next nine save opportunities, posting a 0.93 ERA in 10 games.
"Marmol's a good pitcher and he's a great closer," Zambrano said last July. "But he's human, too."
Marmol understands that.
"Everybody tries to be perfect," he said Sunday. "I think I need to be more consistent this year and work a little harder in the field and forget about the negative stuff from last year."
When Marmol was benched, Sean Marshall and Kerry Wood took over the closer duties. Marshall is gone, and Wood is probably next in line for that role.
On Sunday, Marmol threw his first side session under the watch of new Cubs manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio and made them laugh. The topic was Marmol's cutter. Last season, when Sveum was the Brewers hitting coach, he would study video of Marmol to prepare for the Cubs-Brewers series. Sveum couldn't figure out what the heck the right-hander was throwing.
"We were thinking, 'What is he doing? Is that just a bad slider?'" Sveum said.
Brewers hitters would return to the dugout shaking their heads as well.
Marmol has admitted the cutter gave him problems and was part of the reason his mechanics were messed up.
"He is what he is -- he's an impressive closer, but he's a slider guy with one of the best, unhittable sliders that we've seen in a long time," Sveum said. "That's what he is, and unfortunately sometimes he can get into a lot of pitches in innings because of it, but it's so devastating he gets out of it, too. You don't want him doing anything that Carlos Marmol isn't used to. I think he'll be back to that this year."
Bosio didn't waste any time. On Sunday, he was giving Marmol reminders to get him back in line.
"Chris Bosio has talked to him about a few mechanical things about his shoulders and keeping his shoulders level and things like that," Sveum said. "He wants to lean back and crank velocity and create arm strength through his shoulders, and then he gets out of whack. It's more just keeping his shoulders in line with the strike zone. I think that will help him tremendously.
"Every time 'Bos' mentioned it to him after a scud, right away he got his shoulders back on line and made quality pitches. Some guys, it's big fixes, and some guys, if they take to it in the right language it hits home with them."
The communication began earlier Sunday, when Marmol met with Sveum and Bosio in the manager's office at Fitch Park. The message: Marmol is one of the veterans now and players will be looking up to him.
"That's what we talked about, and I have to work a little harder and try to be one of the leaders on the team," Marmol said. "There's a lot of young guys here."
He did report in shape, losing 15 pounds after spending the offseason running, working out and riding horses on his ranch in the Dominican Republic.
"I worked hard out there, and I'm going to try to work more than the year before and have a better year," he said.
Finding the right reminders to get Marmol ready will be key for bullpen coach Lester Strode. Fans have to understand that if Marmol isn't right warming up in the bullpen, it's too late to make a change.
"He could be fine, and when he gets out there [in a game], it's a whole different perspective when you cross that line," Strode said. "All of a sudden your adrenaline is flowing, you've got the whole situation and environment you're dealing with -- although he's just as focused in the 'pen as when he crosses the line."
When Sveum gets Marmol up for a game, that'll be it. The closer is coming in.
"Whether it's a reliever, starter, closer, whoever, sometimes they could be struggling in the 'pen trying to get their feel for pitches or executing their pitches, and when they cross the line, it clicks for them," Strode said. "This is your closer. He may be struggling in the 'pen to try to find his release point or get a good rhythm with his delivery, but you can't say, 'Shut him down and get somebody else ready.'
"First of all, there's no time for that. Second, it wouldn't be respectful to that closer to do something like that. You just have to hope that based upon his experiences over time, it comes into play and he'll make that adjustment when he gets out there and is ready to face that first hitter."
Marmol doesn't make any excuses for his inconsistent performance last season.
"When you have a bad year, you have a bad year," he said. "I don't think it was a real bad year. Last year is over. We've got a lot of new faces, young guys. I have to work hard. That's all you can do."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.