"We said we'd let both pitchers compete in the spring, and both have pitched very well," Piniella said Sunday morning after informing Gregg and Marmol of the decision. "I'm fortunate that I have two pitchers I have confidence in."
Piniella was being generous to Marmol in his assessment of the spring. While Gregg hasn't allowed a run in 8 1/3 innings this spring (four hits, 10 strikeouts, one walk), Marmol has allowed four runs in eight innings and, most noticeably, has had difficulty with his command. Marmol has hit five batters during his eight innings.
"I think, leaving spring training, we're a better team the way we put this together," said Piniella, whose Cubs open next Monday in Houston. "Now, what we have to do with Marmol in the set-up role is find a couple of pitchers who can help him so we can get to where we don't have to used him as much as we did (early) last year."
Veteran Aaron Heilman, who should see a lot of work in the seventh innings, figures prominently in that mix. Piniella also mentioned Luis Vizcaino and lefty Neal Cotts. Right-handers Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija are two others who could factor in, but the Cubs aren't certain how the last spot or two in their bullpen will shake out.
Gregg, 30, compiled 61 saves over the past two seasons combined for the Florida Marlins. Marmol, 26, has eight career saves -- seven last year. Though Piniella did not mention the World Baseball Classic as factoring into the decision, Marmol spent part of this spring away from Cubs camp, pitching for the Dominican Republic. He struggled there as well, blowing a save opportunity in the Dominican Republic's 2-1 loss to The Netherlands.
"I told him the better he does his job, the better we'll be as a team," Piniella said of his message to Marmol. "I told him not to be disappointed, that there will be plenty of opportunities down the road for him for him to close. I told him to improve and maintain, and a lot of good things will happen for him in his career."
Besides, in a perfect Cubs world, if they win as often as they hope, Marmol may still get a chance to close at times because Piniella hopes to refrain from using Gregg more than two or three days in a row.
Of course, worse-case scenario is that Gregg stumbles early and a full-blown controversy develops.
"We're not going to tiptoe through the tulips with this thing," Piniella said. "We've made our decision. We're going to give (Gregg) every chance to succeed, and I'm sure he will."
Piniella added: "I couldn't go wrong either way, I really couldn't. I thought about this for a long time. It's tough to bring a young man into this office like that (and tell Marmol he lost the job), especially someone who's played such a big role in our success."
Likes: How can you beat this upcoming week: Bruce Springsteen's new tour kicking off on Wednesday night, the Final Four games on Saturday, Braves at Phillies in the season opener on Sunday, 28 major-league clubs opening on Monday and then the NCAA championship hoops game on Monday night. If you can't find some things to smile about in there, you may as well give it up. ... Aaron Boone continuing to do well following open-heart surgery last week. ... Clubs like the Cubs making final roster decisions. ... Jordan Zimmerman in the Washington Nationals' April rotation. Why not? What, they've got somebody both more experienced AND better. ... Villanova. What a great, gutsy team.
Dislikes: Watching Pittsburgh (and so much of the Big East, for that matter) play basketball. Grab, push, shove, hip-check ... it's all brawn, little artistry. But the Panthers sure do have onions, as television commentator Bill Raftery would say.
Sunblock day? Partly cloudy on Sunday in the desert, actually. I suppose it sunblock wouldn't hurt, but it's been on the cool side.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Hey Frank, won't you pack your bags
"And meet me tonight down at Liberty Hall
"Just one kiss from you my brother
"And we'll ride until we fall
"We'll sleep in the fields
"We'll sleep by the rivers
"And in the morning we'll make a plan
"Well, if you can't make it
"Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive
"If you can
"And meet me in a dream of this hard land"
-- Bruce Springsteen, This Hard Land