Friday, March 27, 2009

Closing thoughts on spring

I just watched my two favorite teams go head-to-head, with the Cubs beating the White Sox 9-4. The Cubs took three out of four from the Sox this spring, though of course, these things must be kept in perspective during spring training.

There were arguably three things notable about the game: First, it was Kosuke Fukudome's first game with the Cubs after his stint with WBC repeat champs Japan. He did not do much in the WBC, and though reports out of Arizona yesterday made it sound like he is better conditioned and in a better mood than he seemed to be last year, at the plate he looked roughly like the Fukie of around early July last year: Not like he could do whatever he wanted, but also not completely lost. He did go 1-4 and scored a run.

The second and third notable items have to do with closers. Bobby Jenks again pitched a scoreless inning for the Sox, which I think brings him to 7 IP this spring with a 0.00 ERA (I added his inning today to the stats in the only had the stats updated through yesterday). He's been looking generally better with each appearance. His hits given up--6, I think (accurate spring stats are sometime hard to come by)--and walks--at least 4--do not engender a great deal of confidence, but seems to stick to the story of Bobby's recent career trend of starting trouble, but ending it before damage is done.

The final notable item is a noteworthy absence. With Lou Piniella about to decide his closer (it may be happening as I write this, so I'll follow up later), there was an expectation we would see shaky Carlos Marmol pitch both yesterday and today. He did pitch yesterday, but not today, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to suggest that Lou made up his mind after seeing Marmol blow a save in yesterday's shortened game against the Giants, giving up a 2-run double to former (and forever) member of the 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox, Aaron Rowand.

It was the latest in a string of troubling outings for Marmol, who had hit 5 batters and given up 6 hits in 8 IP since coming back to the Cubs after the WBC, even while striking out 10 and walking 1. Then there was the WBC fiasco: Marmol couldn't decide whether or not to pitch in the WBC, and then went and gave up the game-losing run that knocked his Dominican Republic team out of the tournament. The indecision itself was the latest thing that made me wonder about Marmol, even before he came back to the Cubs and posted a 4.50 ERA in a handful of outings. Indecision = lack of confidence, a closer's worst nightmare.

So, I'm fully expecting Lou to name Kevin Gregg the closer. Gregg has had a brilliant spring (Here's the Marmol-Gregg comparison through yesterday), though he was not used in any actual save situations this spring (Marmol at least had one save opp, yesterday's blown chance). Save opportunities, though, are pretty hard to come by in the spring, when teams are scoring 16 runs a game with regularity. Still, Gregg has had 0.00 ERA in 8.1 IP, 10 strikeouts and 2 walks. Gregg as the closer is not a bad thing, though it makes me wish again that the Cubs had just kept Kerry Wood and kept Marmol firmly entrenched as the set-up man. You have to wonder now if Marmol's implosion this spring will lead some shakiness when the games really matter.

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