Marmol walks to the back of the line

CHICAGO -– Carlos Marmol’s slow crawl out of the doghouse was halted Saturday by the type of regression that has become all too familiar for the right-hander.

Asked to preserve a two-run lead in the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds, Marmol’s aversion for the strike zone continued in the form of two walks and a hit batter. Before fellow reliever Hector Rondon could clean up the bases-loaded mess, the Reds pushed across four runs on their way to a 6-4 comeback victory.

After already losing his closer role in early April, Marmol had started to recover in less high-profile spots. He took a stretch of 10 scoreless outings into Saturday’s setup assignment, although 14 pitches later it was as if his recent run of success had never happened.

Despite the scoreless outings, there were signs Saturday’s most recent meltdown was coming. He had walked a batter in each of his last four appearances, including a total of four walks in back-to-back outings at Cincinnati last week.

“He’s going to be pitching in roles game on the line early in the game or whatever,” manager Dale Sveum said afterward. “One way or another, he's got to get fixed. He's getting [through] innings, besides today, but still, 16 walks and three hit batters in 11 innings? I don't even know if he threw a strike today. A couple swings, but I don't know if they were strikes. One way or another, we've got to get him fixed. He's got to pitch.”

Officially, Marmol was credited with four strikes over his 14 pitches.

“I can't throw strikes [while] giving people a chance to score,” Marmol said. “And I walked people.”

Marmol said his health is fine. When trying to explain how he can get back on track he couldn’t have been less specific.

“I've got to throw strikes and get people out,” he said. “That's all you can do right now.”

It was Marmol’s 453rd relief appearance in a Cubs uniform, the most in club history as Lee Smith’s old mark fell by the wayside. Yet nobody was in the mood to mark the occasion with joy.

“It’s happened too many times, not [just] to him but the whole team,” said Alfonso Soriano, whose two two-run home runs were wasted in the defeat. “Sometimes we’re not getting the big hit and sometimes we’re not getting the big out. That’s the difference in a first-place team and a last-place team. We have so many games where we’re winning in the sixth, seventh inning and we give it to the other team.”

With a $9.8 million salary this season, the Cubs aren’t ready to send Marmol packing, and they don’t figure to be able to trade him even if they eat all of his salary. So he will have to go back to appearing in games the Cubs are trailing in an attempt to show he can put pitches in the strike zone.

Even that might not help him to pitch anywhere near a role that a $10 million reliever should have.

“He's still got stuff, so I'm not jumping to any conclusions,” Sveum said when asked if he would just as soon give up on Marmol. “It gets tough to have any confidence in him with 16 people on base in 11 innings without getting a hit.”