Marmol out, Fujikawa in as Cubs' closer
ATLANTA -- Carlos Marmol is no longer the Cubs' closer, and Kyuji Fujikawa is taking over the job.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum met Sunday with both pitchers to give them the news. The Cubs had a 5-1 lead Saturday against the Braves but lost, 6-5, when Marmol served up game-tying and game-winning home runs in the ninth to B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, respectively.
Last May, Sveum removed Marmol as the closer and used James Russell and Rafael Dolis. The Cubs didn't have many save opportunities, and Marmol then went on the disabled list May 12 with a strained hamstring. He was reinstated as the closer when he returned in late May, but the Cubs told Marmol he could not shake off his catcher. It seemed to work. After compiling a 5.61 ERA in 31 games before the All-Star break last year, Marmol had a 1.52 ERA in 30 games in the second half.
Is there a chance Marmol could reclaim the job this year?
"Yeah, there's a chance," Sveum said. "Hopefully, Fujikawa takes it and runs with it and does a great job and we don't have to deal with it. Marmol's going to pitch in less stressful situations and get his confidence back. You still have seven guys in the bullpen, so he's obviously going to pitch and end up pitching quite a bit in situations."
Marmol wasn't going to give up on getting the job back.
"I'm not going to put my head down," he said.
In Marmol's three appearances this season, it's been a struggle. Marmol has retired four of the 13 batters he's faced in three games. Teams are batting .600 against him, and he's given up five runs on six hits in 10 at-bats, including the two home runs. Right-handed hitters are 5-for-5 with two walks.
Marmol also has shown a pattern that scouts are probably picking up. He throws first-pitch fastballs to batters 80 percent of the time, and when he's ahead in the count, he'll go to his slider 75 percent of the time. If he has two strikes, he'll also throw his slider 90.9 percent. Sveum said Marmol's slider has been flat.
"Everybody knows what I need to work on -- [locating] my pitches," Marmol said. "That's the thing I need to do."
Sveum's other in-house options were Shawn Camp, who is 12-for-28 in his career in save situations, and Russell, a lefty who has two career saves.
"That's one reason we signed [Fujikawa], in case something like this happened," Sveum said. "He's comfortable in getting the last three outs. It's just kind of the logical thing to do instead of thinking you're going to do it by committee or anything like that."
Fujikawa, who was a closer for Hanshin in Japan for 12 seasons before signing a two-year contract with the Cubs, had a tough outing Saturday, but Sveum said the right-hander was relying too much on his cutter instead of using his fastball. The closer's job is his.
"I don't want to be having this conversation 10 days from now," Sveum said. "We signed him for a reason, obviously, to pitch the eighth and hope everything would go well [with Marmol]. We had a guy who we signed and if something went haywire, we could put him in the closer's role. And obviously, after five days, it's come to that."
This is the final season of Marmol's three-year, $20 million contract that will pay him $9.8 million this season.
"It's the toughest job in all of baseball, because you're the center of attention for the last three outs," Sveum said. "You give up three runs in the sixth inning and it goes unnoticed. You give up a walk-off or take the loss and when you're closing, it's magnified."
Alfonso Soriano talked to Marmol after the right-hander's struggles on Opening Day in Pittsburgh.
"I told him, 'Don't lose your confidence,'" Soriano said. "It's a long season and he has to keep working, and that's the only way you can get better is to keep working and not lose your confidence because when you lose your confidence, everything goes negative. I tried to give him some motivation because he's part of the team. We need him. He'll be all right, he'll be OK."