PITTSBURGH -- There's at least one thing Chicago Cubs brass should be doing on their day-off on Tuesday: Discussing who should close out games when they have a lead.
That's because Carlos Marmol is no longer the answer.
That might seem harsh one game into the season, but we all know this isn't about one game. Nearly blowing a gem by Jeff Samardzija on Monday isn't the only reason Marmol should be pitching earlier in games -- it's just the final reason.
Let's take a step back.
The Cubs know his stuff isn't what it once was and they also must know Marmol might not be as mentally strong as he once was. More than likely it's because his confidence likely has taken a hit over the past couple of seasons, even though he was effective in the second half last season (1.52 ERA with 12 saves in 13 opportunities).
Calling him a head case might be going too far but there is a deer-in-headlights look to him when he struggles like he did Monday. A hit batter, stolen base, base hit and a walk will do that to a pitcher on Opening Day. Why must it continue?
There's little doubt the Cubs would like to trade him and the best return would come if he was closing games. But the season has started and Cubs president Theo Epstein needs to adhere to his own words. On the eve of spring training he said, "Now it's about 2013."
He meant the focus should be on the season at hand and not prospects for the future or trade possibilities.
If the Cubs were looking to move Marmol why didn't it happen in the spring when they proclaimed he had a good camp? Maybe because he really didn't -- unless the Cubs believe nine walks, 11 hits and a hit batter in 10 innings to go along with a 6.97 ERA is a good spring.
Then they'll say spring stats don't matter but somehow the last three months of last season do? How does last season mean anything for this one for an inconsistent pitcher? Why can't spring be the indication if he's carried over his solid finish to 2012? Why must the Cubs wait for blow-ups in April?
Although spring stats don't matter much for most, in Marmol's case they did. He wasn't working on a new pitch or, really, doing anything different than he would in the regular season. He was trying to get batters out. And when he was wild it was in the same fashion as it's always been. And when he got hit, it was also in the same fashion.
Marmol has a pattern when he's bad and that pattern showed itself in spring training. It's true it didn't have to carry over to the regular season but it did. Predictably.
The Cubs signed 12-year Japanese League veteran closer Kyuji Fujikawa in the offseason and no one knows if he can get the job done long-term. But on Monday -- with the tying runs on base and no margin for error -- it took him two pitches to record his first save.
Why is this even a debate?
Let Marmol set up or pitch the seventh -- sometime other than the ninth -- and let Fujikawa close. If it doesn't work out then address it at that point. In the meantime morale in the clubhouse will stay high and the Cubs might actually win more games. What a novel concept.