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Manager Dale Sveum’s closer-by-committee approach has worked for Cubs

Carlos Marmol

Carlos Marmol

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Updated: May 30, 2013 3:14PM

MIAMI — Like most managers who do it, the Cubs’ Dale Sveum is using a closer-by-committee
approach because he has to.
Nobody got the job done as the main guy.

But Sveum said Sunday he might consider using the committee
approach all season if it keeps working, even if someone such as Carlos Marmol or Kevin Gregg is pitching lights-out. Especially if both are.

‘‘I think it could work,’’ said
Sveum, who considers those two right-handers and left-hander James Russell his ninth-inning
options now. ‘‘It’s just the mentality of those last three outs. If you have three or four guys that are capable of doing that without panic setting in, yeah, it could work.’’

Sveum already is pulling it off in the short term. For the first time since the save became an official stat in 1969, the Cubs have three pitchers with multiple saves in April (Gregg has three and Marmol and injured Kyuji Fujikawa have two each). As for long term, he might have the right pitchers to do it. Marmol and Gregg have a combined 264 saves in the majors, and Russell might be the coolest performer out of the Cubs’ bullpen.

Sveum certainly seems to have a front office that supports the idea.

It was 10 years ago, in Cubs president Theo Epstein’s first season as the general manager of the Boston Red Sox, that he and consultant Bill James made waves with the Red Sox’ highly publicized — and ultimately failed — effort to re-
define how teams finish games. Outs in the ninth inning aren’t worth any more than outs in the eighth, they figured, so why not use the best available reliever when he’s most needed?

That’s logical, of course, but it leaves out the emotional and mental elements at play. Plus, the Red Sox didn’t have the personnel to pull it off. Nobody has tried it for a full season since.

‘‘You can’t just look at it in a complete vacuum and say the human element has nothing to do with it,’’ Epstein recently told for a story on the 10-year anniversary of the experiment. ‘‘I also don’t think you can be afraid to make
decisions that help you win the game because there is a certain
expectation. It’s easier for me to
say, not being the one who has to manage those personalities throughout the season.’’

Sveum isn’t ready to commit to any closer plan for the rest of the season — he joked more than once during the weekend about how well his relievers seem to pitch if they don’t know when they’re going into the game — but he clearly has given the committee plan serious thought.

‘‘Whether it’s two guys in the lineup that are coming up in the eighth and they’re not going to get up in the ninth, but this guy just owns them flat-out, why save him for the next
inning when this inning’s just as important?’’ he said, mentioning Marmol and Gregg. ‘‘Or [if] you’re guaranteed three lefties coming up in the ninth, I’m going to use Russell in that situation. There’s all kinds of different scenarios of why it could work and why you would stick with it.’’

The last guy Sveum used as his lone closer, Fujikawa, lost the job when elbow soreness put him on the disabled list. He might be back in the next week to 10 days, but he likely won’t return in that role. At least not by himself.

‘‘I’m not going to really mess with anything right now in our bullpen,’’ said Sveum, whose
relievers have a 1.59 ERA and five saves in the Cubs’ last 11 games.

It’s a stretch that has coincided with Sveum’s mystery-closer methodology.

‘‘It works,’’ Marmol said. ‘‘If we’re winning and we can keep it like that, I’m fine with it. . . . I’m just glad he’s giving me the ball in good situations. And we’re winning. That’s what matters.’’

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