MORRISSEY: Cubs manager Dale Sveum had little choice but to change closers
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com April 7, 2013 9:45PM
Updated: April 8, 2013 10:57PM
ATLANTA — Cubs manager Dale Sveum was very
succinct Sunday in
announcing the demotion of
‘‘He is no longer the closer,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘[Kyuji] Fujikawa will move into the closing role. We talked to them both. So we’re all done with that.’’
I loved the finality in those words. It was like someone saying, ‘‘We just killed the alien attached to your face, so there’s absolutely no chance of the creature’s embryo eating its way out of your stomach!’’
These are the Cubs, Dale. They are never all done with anything. There are no mop-up operations, only ongoing efforts at containment.
The Cubs signed Fujikawa during the offseason in case ‘‘something went haywire,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘Haywire’’ is what actively drives this franchise, which is why, five games into the season, Marmol is already a former closer.
Everybody knew this season was going to be a tough one, based on the Cubs’ 101-loss debacle of 2012 and their flabby body of work over, oh, a century or so. But the news Sunday felt like a new land-speed record on the road to trouble.
Marmol allowed tying and walk-off home runs to the Braves in the ninth inning Saturday at Turner Field, four games after an Opening Day debacle against the Pirates in which he was yanked after facing four batters. Fujikawa also struggled in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss Saturday to the Braves, but he has to be better than Marmol because, at this point, a hamster would be better.
‘‘Marmol is going to pitch in less stressful situations and get his confidence back,’’ Sveum said.
Sveum is a hero among Cubs fans for pulling the trigger so quickly on the historically up-and-down Marmol. But if you’re among that group of fans delirious about his decision — that group called ‘‘everybody’’ — you should be equally upset with team management for pulling the plug on a Marmol-for-Dan Haren trade with the Angels during the offseason. The Cubs were concerned about Haren’s lingering hip problem when they should have been concerned about Marmol’s lingering slider, the one that doesn’t break anymore.
Marmol said he hasn’t given thought to whether a fresh start with another team might be the best thing for him and the Cubs, but you have to wonder if president Theo Epstein is thinking it. If Marmol continues to struggle, cutting him would be a real option, no matter how much he’s making ($9.8 million). A trade is a pipe dream.
Marmol said he couldn’t sleep after his meltdown Saturday, which makes sense. It must be hell when the thing you do best suddenly deserts you.
‘‘I tried everything, and it didn’t work out,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ll try something different. I need to locate more of my pitches. I was watching video, watching last year’s stuff, and we’re going to try to change up. I’m throwing the ball right down the middle. I’m going to try to put the ball on the corners and make a good pitch.’’
The question now is how well Fujikawa’s success in Japan will translate to U.S. baseball. In the last six years with the Hanshin Tigers, he had 202 saves with a ridiculous 1.36 ERA. For every walk he allowed, he struck out about five batters.
‘‘It wasn’t just average numbers; he put up astronomical numbers,’’ Sveum said.
At 32, Fujikawa is two older than Marmol. Other than that, though, there’s not a whole lot we know. He has four pitches. He dyes his hair orange-brown. He doesn’t speak much English. Asked Sunday what he does away from the diamond, he said, ‘‘Sauna.’’
He’s a rookie in major-league baseball and still learning about U.S. culture.
‘‘I feel I’ve transitioned well,’’ he said through a translator. ‘‘I’ve been able to relax. I’ve been able to go into the game with the same concentration as I had in Japan.’’
Fujikawa didn’t get a chance to close Sunday. Jeff Samardzija had 13 strikeouts, four walks, two wild pitches and one hit batter in 52/3 innings in the Cubs’ 5-1 loss. It means Fujikawa likely will make his closer debut in Chicago. The Cubs’ home opener is Monday against the Brewers.
‘‘Once Marmol’s condition gets better, I think there’s a chance he will come back [as closer],’’ Fujikawa said.
To the segment of Cubs fans that rather would die a painful death than see Marmol pitch again in the ninth inning — the segment called ‘‘everybody’’ — those words sound horrible.
They sound like the Cubs.