Overuse to blame for Marmol's woes

CHICAGO -- The most recent meltdown by Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol is not a result of a lack of preparation by the pitcher or poor instruction by the coaching staff but rather long-term abuse of one of the most unique and talented arms in the game.

Marmol has more appearances than any pitcher since 2008. The reason past managers could overuse him is two-fold. Until early 2011, Marmol was so resilient that he encouraged the coaches to use him in tie games or when the team was trailing by a run late. And over the past two seasons, the coaching staff fell into a comfortable mode of using former setup man Sean Marshall and Marmol at the end of games. That was a sure-fire formula for short-term success and long-term attrition on your relievers.

To the credit of manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio, the Cubs came up with a plan to give Marmol a new pitch to cut down on the wear and tear that had sapped the pitcher of his 95 mph fastball. Bosio helped Marmol develop a sinking fastball (two-seamer) to work on in the middle of March. The Cubs hoped the two-seam fastball would help cut down on Marmol’s dependence on the slider which no longer is an unhittable pitch.

The last straw for Sveum was the pitcher’s insistence on using the slider 90 percent of the time in his ill-fated appearance in the Cubs’ 4-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in 10 innings on Thursday.

“The main thing is that you have to make [Marmol] understand that as a big-league pitcher you have to throw a fastball right down the middle when you have three-run leads and people are not going to swing the bat,” Sveum said. “Carlos just falls back on those really good times when he had that great slider and being able to throw it for a strike any time.”

For now Marmol will go into a seventh- or eighth-inning role until he adjusts to using the fastball as his primary pitch to get ahead of hitters. He can be an effective closer again, but his days of striking out two batters an inning are in the past.