Shaky Cubs bullpen starting to rebound

CHICAGO -- Carlos Marmol is no longer the closer, Kerry Wood has been hurt and has struggled in the setup role and Lendy Castillo is rarely used.

Dale Sveum knew that one of his toughest tasks as a first-time manager would be to maintain a bullpen with some question marks, but he never imagined this.

“Um, yeah, I guess you can probably say that,” Sveum said about bullpen management being harder than expected. “I think because we’re trying to be optimistic about everything with the team.”

There are bright bullpen spots too, though, and James Russell and Rafael Dolis are two of them. The lefty Russell pitched a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday in support of starter Paul Maholm and the righty Dolis finished it off with a scoreless ninth for a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

It wasn’t as if Sveum was operating with wishful thinking when he continued to use Marmol as his closer despite early-season struggles. He wanted to give the former All-Star every opportunity to regain his old form not only to be fair to Marmol but to show the rest of the club that he is in the players’ corner.

As Marmol’s struggles became too much for the club to absorb, Sveum finally gave in and made a change, with Dolis and Russell now sharing the closer’s role depending on the situation.

Shoulder issues have plagued Wood this year leaving Sveum to now consider what he will do with the set-up role. It doesn’t help that extremely inexperienced right-hander Castillo is only used in mop-up settings, something the Cubs haven’t been in of late as they have started to become more competitive.

And part of the reason the Cubs have been better is that the bullpen has started to sort itself out. Despite its inconsistency, there have been some solid performers already this year. Shawn Camp has been another positive, but nobody has outshined Dolis.

“Dolis has been better than we all expected in clutch situations,” Sveum said. “We didn’t know how he was going to be able to handle that. We knew he had the stuff and all that but not know how he would handle it. So we’ve had a lot of bright spots out there too.”

So far, though, the bright spots have yet to outshine the disappointments but the more Russell and Dolis close out games like they did Wednesday, that will change.

“A month in, obviously you’re dealing with situations and how to handle it and what roles,” Sveum said. “Use this here, use that there, matchups, and all that. It’s not that cut-and-dry seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning guy that’s for sure.”

It could be soon, though, and all it would take is for either Wood or Marmol to get back on track.