Cubs might turn to Blake Parker if closer Kevin Gregg is traded
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com June 29, 2013 11:32PM
After Kevin Gregg blew his first save of the year Saturday, rookie Blake Parker (above) earned his first major-league save. | Elaine Thompson-AP
Updated: August 2, 2013 7:18AM
SEATTLE — Until Friday, the most reliable law of baseball physics was that if the Seattle Mariners were down after seven innings, they stayed down.
Leave it to the Cubs’ bullpen to reverse the force of baseball gravity — four days into the post-Carlos Marmol era — by allowing the Mariners’ first late-inning comeback victory of the year after they were 0-for-34.
Which raises the obvious question: Where are the Cubs going to go to find a save once 12-for-13 closer Kevin Gregg is traded in the next month?
“He’d be tough to replace,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He’s done a great job. I guess maybe you could look at [rookie Blake] Parker because he’s done it at Triple-A, if those things do come to light.”
Parker earned his first major-league save Saturday in the Cubs’ 5-3, 11-inning victory over the Mariners. Gregg blew his first save of the season in the ninth, giving the Cubs eight pitchers with a blown save.
“He showed me a lot today after thinking maybe he was going to be shut down today [after pitching 11/3 innings Friday].”
“It’s a position I’m confident in for sure,” Parker said, “going out there in tight situations where any competitor wants to be.”
Everybody in the Cubs’ bullpen not named Gregg has a combined five saves — and 15 blown saves. That includes the usually stellar setup man, James Russell, who is 0-for-5 after blowing the save Friday in a rocky eighth, and who is another trade candidate.
It already has been a bigger issue than the ninth-inning problems that eventually cost Marmol his job.
Which raises the next obvious question: Just how bad will the Cubs be in the final two months as they try to avert a second consecutive 100-loss season if some of the few reliable relievers are dealt at the deadline.
“Obviously, we’ve had a little trouble with everyone closing out games in the eighth inning,” Sveum said. “It’s been tough all year long to get those outs, whether it’s been the eighth or ninth inning for holds and all that. It’s been a big fistfight after leading so many games after seven innings.”
And not just after seven. The Cubs entered the game Saturday against the Mariners tied for the major-league lead with 24 losses in games they led at some point.
The entire pitching staff could be gutted next month if starters Matt Garza and Scott Feldman are traded, as expected, along with key relievers.
Then what? Another parade of Class AAA pitchers like last year? A downward spiral to the finish?
Maybe Scott Baker finally will be back from Tommy John surgery in April 2012 by early August to plug a rotation hole. He has progressed to throwing simulated games in Mesa, Ariz., and could start a minor-league rehab assignment somewhere near the All-Star break.
But the rookie hazing the Cubs laid on the fans with the rotation at the end of last year could be replicated by the bullpen this time around.
Parker, who made his big-league debut last year before an elbow injury sidelined him, had seven saves for Iowa this year and could get a chance to develop that kind of late-inning skill in Gregg’s wake.
Sveum already has begun using him in more later-inning, higher-stress situations lately, with mixed results (two walks to start the 10th inning Friday; 2.38 ERA overall).
“I’m not really making an effort of it. He’s just kind of earned it now, the way our bullpen sets up,” Sveum said. “He’s done it at Triple-A, and his velocity’s back. He’s developed that split-finger fastball that’s helping him out a lot at this level. So he’s deserved to be one of those guys in the later innings when we’re winning ballgames.”