Lou Piniella has done plenty of thinking and acting outside the box this year. Putting Sean Marshall in left field for one batter because he wanted to keep him in the game. Shifting Jeff Baker and Alfonso Soriano between 2B and 3B -- after being forced to use Soriano in the infield in the first place -- to try to keep ground balls away from Soriano. And, even yesterday, shaking up the lineup in an attempt to get Aramis Ramirez some rest and a little better outfield defense.
Why, then, is it so difficult for Lou to consider some shifts in his bullpen when circumstances make it necessary? Kevin Gregg had blown a save Saturday night and thrown 36 pitches -- the second-most he had thrown in any one game in 2009 and the most in a single-inning appearance -- so why not try someone else on Sunday afternoon? (Even with the late start, Sunday's game was officially a day game, because it started before 6 pm local time.) Virtually everyone else in the pen had been stretched out during Saturday's ridiculously long victory...
... except Marshall. Why not try Marshall? I realize that only one of the three scheduled hitters in the ninth inning for the Marlins yesterday was lefthanded (Jeremy Hermida), but Marshall can get right-handed hitters out, too. Or call on Jeff Stevens, who the Marlins have never seen.
Instead, Gregg came in and gave up back-to-back homers to Dan Uggla and Cody Ross (for Ross, his second of the game), and the Cubs suffered a devastating 3-2 loss to the Marlins. It's not "devastating" because it puts them in a bad spot in the division -- they're still only half a game behind the Cardinals -- but losses like this one hurt more than most, especially, as Len Kasper said, on getaway day, where the players have to sit on a plane and stew about it.
Gregg has now allowed 10 homers, the most of any NL relief pitcher, in 49.2 innings, after allowing only three in 68 innings all of last year. In his last six outings he's given up three homers, blown two saves, and has an ERA of 15.75, raising his season ERA more than a run, from 3.15 to 4.17.
Still, the calls for Gregg to be removed as closer (or worse, as I saw last night here, to "DFA him!!!1!" are ridiculous. Many closers have outings like this -- and yesterday's was more on the head of his manager than on him; Gregg probably shouldn't have been in the game at all. And who would you suggest replacing him with? Carlos Marmol? Marmol's head doesn't seem on straight, and he's been walking almost a batter an inning. Angel Guzman? Then what do you do for a setup man?
All of this ruined a fine outing by Ryan Dempster, who gave the Marlins only three hits in his six innings of work. After allowing a Cubs run in the third, Ricky Nolasco was lights-out for the rest of his stint, winding up with eight strikeouts. And I'm not even going to blame Aaron Heilman, who allowed Ross' first homer of the day -- the pitch Ross hit was a good pitcher's pitch, low in the strike zone. Ross is one of those under-the-radar guys, like Scott Podsednik or Shane Victorino, who teams think can't make it; he was traded twice for minor leaguers who never made it and wound up as a Marlin via a straight sale from Cincinnati. He strikes out more than you'd like, but plays good defense and hits home runs.
Kudos to Jake Fox for giving the Cubs the lead in the 9th inning with his eighth homer of the year; he is now hitting .308/.347/.607, and while we may never see him behind the plate again with Geovany Soto expected to be back this weekend, at least we know the guy can hit at the major league level. My personal choice would be to send Micah Hoffpauir -- who had another bad day Sunday, dropping his average to .233, a season low -- to Iowa when Geo comes back. (Yes, he has options left.) This would give him a chance to play every day for a few weeks, come back September 1 with his timing back, and he'd still be eligible for postseason play. Fox can back up first base and Sam Fuld can play any of the outfield positions that Hoffpauir can... only better.
The Cubs play the Reds for the next three days, and the Reds are reeling, having lost six in a row and gone 8-21 since July 1. Time to get back in first place and stay there.