MESA, Arizona -- Today's game felt like a regular season loss. And that's not good, because normally, spring losses not only don't really matter, but they don't feel like anything, really -- just baseball being played in a different way than you see during the regular season.
The Cubs lost 5-2 to the Athletics when Carlos Marmol imploded in the ninth inning. It wasn't a save situation, but Marmol was warming up when the Cubs had runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the eighth and it appeared that they'd take the lead. A slick over-the-shoulder catch by, of all people, former Cub Eric Patterson and an accurate throw to the plate to get Kosuke Fukudome trying to score got the A's out of that inning tied 2-2. (And yes, that was a worthwhile scoring chance to take.) Earlier in the game, Marlon Byrd's HR to left landed about 20 feet to my left, too far away to dive for it.
The entire game, actually, was played by Lou in more of a regular-season mode. It was probably the Opening Day lineup on the field, including Carlos Zambrano, and Z looked sharp. He gave up a run early, then settled down and should have given up nothing else, except that Ryan Theriot dropped a catchable pop behind SS. It wasn't his ball -- that kind of ball should be taken by the left fielder -- but Alfonso Soriano was slow getting to the ball (knees still bothering him? No hops again today), and Theriot called for it. At the last second Soriano called him off it, and the ball dropped out of Theriot's glove for an error; the runner eventually scored, an unearned run. Z struck out six.
Then James Russell and Jeff Samardzija, both newly assigned to the bullpen, came in and threw effective setup innings. Sounds good, right?
It was good until Marmol came in and gave up a long home run to Travis Buck -- that one needed no help from the 25 MPH wind howling to right field -- hit the next batter he faced, gave up another pair of hits sandwiched around a forceout, and had to be relieved by Justin Berg, who ended the inning with a strikeout-throwout double play.
This is just not good. Marmol was supposed to be ready for these kinds of situations; instead it looked like "Bad Marmol" from last year. Fortunately, this one didn't mean anything. But after worrying about the rest of the bullpen makeup for most of this month, let's hope we don't have to be worried about the closer.
After the jump, a few more thoughts about the bullpen and rotation assignments announced earlier today.
This morning, Lou announced that Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny would go to the rotation and Jeff Samardzija and Sean Marshall would be in the bullpen, with James Russell named to the final bullpen slot.
This leaves the pen as: Carlos Marmol, John Grabow, Esmailin Caridad, Justin Berg, Samardzija, Marshall and Russell.
Presuming today's Marmol explosion was an aberration, that's actually a pen I like. I would have preferred Marshall in the rotation, but Gorzelanny has shown enough that he might just be OK. The Cubs will have three lefthanders (Grabow, Marshall and Russell) in the pen for the first time since Lou Piniella became manager. This is a good thing, because it (hopefully) will prevent Lou from wasting Marshall, who can easily go a couple of innings at a time and retire both RHB and LHB, as a LOOGY. Perhaps Russell can be the LOOGY. I'm guessing that Russell will go back to Iowa when Ted Lilly returns, with whoever does worst (let's hope for the best!) between Silva and Gorzelanny joining the pen. Gorz is out of options, so he couldn't be sent down without clearing waivers. Russell is not yet on the 40-man roster, but the 40-man stands at 39 (and will be at 38 when Angel Guzman is placed on the 60-day DL), so there's room for him.
Samardzija is far better suited to relieving than starting -- he showed that during some key pennant race games in 2008. He looked good today in one inning of work. He might be the key to the pen -- if effective, he might even step in and become a primary setup man. I like Berg and Caridad; both were effective late last year in games against playoff contenders. While it's true that the pen has little experience, sometimes guys come out of nowhere. How many times have we seen relievers throw well against the Cubs and say, "Who IS that guy?" Well, now the Cubs have a chance to do that to other teams' fans.
But Carlos Marmol has to be better than today, his worst outing of the spring. Let's hope it was just an aberration. Tomorrow, Carlos Silva goes against the Padres' Clayton Richard. The Padres will be bringing a split squad to Mesa.