Cubs top Pirates 3-2 while fans blast shaky Carlos Marmol on Twitter
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org April 4, 2013 9:59PM
Carlos Marmol, Dioner Navarro
Updated: April 5, 2013 9:35PM
PITTSBURGH — Maybe it’s a good thing for Carlos Marmol and the Cubs that this road trip goes another series before they head home for the Wrigley Field opener.
Three games into the season, the Cubs have a winning record, a share of first place and a starting rotation that took advantage of the cold in Pittsburgh to roll the Pirates lineup. They also have a closer controversy that overshadowed it all as the team traveled south to Atlanta on Thursday night after a 3-2 win at PNC Park.
It’s not as if nobody saw this coming.
But unless Marmol — or manager Dale Sveum — makes a sudden reversal, Marmol won’t find anyplace safe from the fans’ wrath, considering the reaction on Twitter alone Thursday when he nearly blew a 3-0 lead in the ninth.
He put the first four batters on base with three singles and a walk to make it a one-run game with runners at the corners and none out before striking out Pedro Alvarez and getting Neil Walker to ground into a double play.
It was the second rough appearance for Marmol in as many tries since he finished his spring with three shaky outings.
But Sveum said he’s sticking with his closer, at least for now.
‘‘I’m not doing anything [with Marmol],’’ Sveum said. ‘‘We’re 2-1, and everybody’s in the same role heading into Atlanta.’’
Unlike in Monday’s outing, Sveum didn’t have his other late-inning ‘‘weapons’’ available because he’d used them leading up to the ninth — including a particularly effective Kyujii Fujikawa, who needed just nine pitches to handle the eighth.
If Marmol didn’t know that most fans on social media were calling for him to be fired as the closer, he was informed by a beat writer who asked about that outcry compared to Sveum’s faith in him.
‘‘That’s a tough question,’’ Marmol said, laughing before getting more serious. ‘‘I’m going to continue trying to do my job.
‘‘It’s [been] tough. But I’m still fighting. I’m going to be fighting every time when I go to the mound.’’
Sveum tried to deflect the latest round of criticism by pointing out that Marmol was generally throwing more strikes, giving up hits instead of hitting guys and walking more than just the one batter he walked Thursday.
But even Marmol admitted the obvious.
‘‘I’m not going to say that’s my best slider or my best fastball,’’ he said. ‘‘But I made good pitches today when I need it.’’
Of course, the controversy is magnified in part because it’s so early in the season and Marmol has allowed half of the six runs the pitching staff has allowed and has put seven men on base against just four outs recorded.
It’s magnified in larger part by the 20 or so Japanese media members crammed into Sveum’s office to monitor Fujikawa, the former Japanese All-Star closer.
At least it’s early. Marmol has nearly four months to improve his trade value before the July 31 deadline. And this is a guy, after all, who converted 12 of 13 chances with a 1.52 ERA after the All-Star break last year.
‘‘We know things can get interesting with him,’’ Sveum said.
Of course, outside of potential trade value, the irony is it won’t matter much in the long run unless the Cubs continue to get late leads consistently.
Which brings it back to the things that got overshadowed: two-run homers by Anthony Rizzo on Monday and Nate Schierholtz in the eighth inning Thursday, a 0.95 ERA among the three Cubs starters in 19 innings against the Pirates, and mostly lights-out pitching from the rest of the bullpen.
‘‘We won both ballgames we were ahead in,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘It was nice to start on the road and win two out of three from a good team and three good starting pitchers. That’s a good start.’’