05/22/08 12:20 PM ET
Marmol's come a long way on mound
Reluctant at first, right-hander now eager to eat up innings
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"It feels like that," Marmol said, laughing, "but when you're doing good, you want to keep doing good. You want to stay in the same routine. I don't care if [manager Lou Piniella] uses me every day, I'll keep doing the best I can."
Marmol is the Cubs' iron man, and he possesses a wicked slider that his bullpen mates would love to have and which hitters hate to face. Considering that he never pitched before the Cubs signed him in July 1999, he's come a long way.
The rubber-armed right-hander was a catcher, third baseman and outfielder when scout Jose Serra found him in the Dominican Republic. Serra signed Marmol and hinted that he might consider pitching. Carmelo Martinez, another coach in the Cubs' Latin American system, also suggested it, saying Marmol had a better chance of getting to the big leagues that way. In 2000, Marmol batted .314 in 41 games with the Cubs' Dominican rookie team. The next year, he played for the Mesa Rookie League team and batted .295 with 11 doubles.
In 2002, he began the season at Class A Lansing, but returned to Mesa. He pitched one inning that year out of necessity, because the team had run out of pitchers. Rick Tronerud, the pitching coach at Mesa, remembers the game. It was against the Giants' Rookie League team, and it was the eighth inning. Marmol came in and struck out two of the three hitters he faced.
"He had one of the best breaking balls of all the pitchers," Tronerud said on Wednesday of the then-catcher/outfielder.
"I think I threw 94, 96 [mph]," Marmol said. "They started to think about me pitching [the] next year. I didn't feel very comfortable. I didn't throw strikes. When I pitched in the game, I didn't throw very hard. They said, 'Don't worry about it' -- it's different mechanics."
In '03, Marmol became a full-time pitcher.
"My first year [in 2003], I was throwing in Arizona and I struck out 66 or something like that," said Marmol, who actually struck out a league-leading 74 batters in 64 1/3 innings. "I started liking it. The next year, we played a long season, and I struck out like 154. I liked it more. I won 14 games. That was a good year."
Give credit to Tronerud, who Marmol says worked him hard. Marmol gives kudos now. At the time, it wasn't a smooth transition.
"He didn't want to pitch," Tronerud said. "I think he was just sounding off. He had his heart set on being a hitter instead of a darn good Major League pitcher."
Marmol continued as a starter in the Minor Leagues, but found himself catapulted into the big leagues in 2006 when the Cubs needed arms to fill spots in the rotation because of injuries.
"That was fast," said Marmol, who struggled to a 5-7 record with a 6.08 ERA in 19 games, including 13 starts.
Was he ready?
|"I love my slider. I think it's one of the reasons I'm here, because I can throw my slider any time I want for a strike."|
|-- Carlos Marmol|
Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild gave Marmol one piece of advice for the offseason: Work on command of his fastball.
"I put in my mind that I didn't want to throw that many pitches in one inning," Marmol said. "That's why I like to pitch in winter ball to work on my counts and get ready for Spring Training."
His brother Luis, now 22, was his catcher. Four days a week, the two would play catch, with Marmol focusing on throwing strikes. That's also when he would fine-tune his slider.
"I love my slider," Marmol said, with a smile. "I think it's one of the reasons I'm here, because I can throw my slider any time I want for a strike."
He may call it a slider, but it's more of a slurve. Kerry Wood has said he'd like to have a slider like Marmol's.
"He's got one better than me," Marmol said.
Last season, Marmol joined the big league team in mid-May, and he led the National League in inherited runners stranded, leaving 36 of 41 on base. Teammate Michael Wuertz was second.
On a normal workday, Marmol will run for 20 minutes, listening to music on his iPod. He does some cardio work. That's it. He doesn't hit with the other pitchers. It's rare now for him to get an at-bat. He has two pitches, a fastball and the beloved slider.
"That's all I need," he said.
On the days when Marmol doesn't get the job done -- and those days are rare -- he is angry at himself. On Saturday against Pittsburgh, he served up a home run to Nate McLouth in the ninth inning. They are the only runs he's given up in 11 2/3 innings over nine games this month. He's struck out 18 in that stretch.
"I was so mad," he said of the McLouth homer. "The guys here told me I'm not going to be perfect every day, and that I'm going to make mistakes sometimes. It's just part of the game."
How long did it take to calm down?
"When I was in the shower -- that's it," Marmol said. "I wash it away. It's a bad day. I was thinking, 'The next day is a new day. Each day is a new day.' Then, I get excited."
You've probably heard stories of how kids in the Dominican Republic used milk cartons as gloves and sticks for bats to play pickup baseball games in the streets. Marmol was one of those kids. He used to shine shoes and did landscaping to help his family. Now, he can afford to buy the shoes he wants. He's up to 20 pairs.
At the end of the season, Marmol will pack an extra suitcase with shoes and clothes he doesn't want to bring back to the people in his hometown of Bonao. No one did that for him, but he wants to give back. On Dec. 24, he will repeat something he's done the last few years and buy a large number of chickens to give to the people there in hopes they can have something special to eat for Christmas.
"A lot of people there have trouble buying food," he said. "I feel good when I do that."
Almost as good as when he strikes out a batter on one of his sliders. This season, Marmol is enjoying his role as prime setup pitcher.
"I have more experience," he said. "I know the hitters up here, I know when I have to throw a fastball down, or a slider, two sliders in a row, three. I feel more comfortable."
Doesn't he miss catching?
"Not anymore," he said, smiling.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.