MORRISSEY: Carlos Marmol finds sanctuary inside the lines
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org February 19, 2013 9:47PM
Carlos Marmol of the Cubs, right, heads toward the dugout after being taken out of the game in the eighth inning at Wrigley Field Saturday, April 7, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
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Updated: March 21, 2013 6:47AM
MESA, Ariz. — Being Carlos Marmol these days would seem to be about as much fun as a cluster headache.
First there’s the accusation of domestic assault hovering over him, an accusation he vigorously denies and one the Cubs agree looks sketchy. Then there’s the very good possibility he’ll be traded, meaning Chicago, the only big-league home he has known, could be in his rearview mirror by the end of July.
But he says that he’s happy, that he doesn’t think about those things and that he’s ready to have a great 2013 season.
“You live with that with baseball,’’ he said. “You’ve got to concentrate on what you’re doing. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve learned how to get everything out except baseball.’’
And that, sports fans, is why pro athletes are pro athletes and we’re whatever it is we are. It’s not that they’re immune to the same troubles that seem ready to attack us at any time; it’s that they seem to be better at pretending they’re not there. They cope by saying “nope.’’
Maybe that’s why they’re the boys of summer playing a kid’s game and we’re worried about paying the mortgage as we shovel out of another snowdrift.
But nothing can change the fact that the Cubs are likely to trade their closer and his $9.8 million salary whenever it becomes apparent this season is a lost one, which should be by, what, June 1?
And nothing can change the fact that the Cubs were set to trade him in November to the Angels for Dan Haren until Haren’s lingering hip issue suddenly scared off the North Siders.
Assuming the rebuilding Cubs don’t shock both baseball and rational thought with a phenomenal start, the best-case scenario is that Marmol pitches well enough to raise his trade value.
If he pitches poorly, he could ruin the Cubs’ chances of a deal and make him less attractive after this season, when he becomes a free agent.
“I’m ready when anything happens,’’ he said. “I’m going to try the best I can. I want to be here. I want to finish my career here. We’ll see what happens. I can’t make that call.’’
His likely replacement already has arrived. The Cubs signed Japanese pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year, $9.5 million contract in December. This is his first big-league camp, and although he was successful in Japan, the Cubs would rather see Marmol do well enough as a closer to allow Fujikawa to get comfortable in America.
Over the years, the 30-year-old Marmol has strapped the Cubs to a roller coaster. His slider, when it bites right, can bring tears of joy to pitching coaches. But when he loses contact with the strike zone, especially with his fastball, he’s the leading cause of about five or six health problems in Cubs fans, starting with heart attacks.
He lost the closer role for long spells during each of the past two seasons. Last year, he pitched well in the second half (1.52 ERA, 12 saves) after a poor first half (5.61 ERA, eight saves). He threw fewer sliders in the second half.
“I think he’s throwing the ball way better than he did last spring training,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. “I think he learned a lot last year about his fastball and how to use it. The slider’s pretty much always going to be there.’’
The Cubs say they didn’t have a deal finalized for Haren, but Marmol maintains that Major League Baseball notified him of the trade. He said someone from MLB also called him to say the deal was off. It’s a good thing he doesn’t dwell on things, otherwise he’d be a confused mess.
“I was sad because I don’t want to leave Chicago,’’ he said. “I had never been in that situation before. I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t sure if I was happy or not.’’
Marmol might have to leave spring training to defend himself against the accusation made by a 24-year-old woman, who has filed a civil suit against him in his native Dominican Republic. His lawyers have filed a countersuit alleging extortion.
There’s putting aside distractions and then there is that. How does one shut out something so serious?
“You have to,’’ Marmol said. “This is my job. I don’t worry about what people say over there.
“I’m very strong. When I’m on the mound, I forget everything. There’s the hitter and my catcher.’’
Not a bad strategy when the rest doesn’t look so pleasant.