It is dateline Chicago once again as we review the big bullpen news of the week. Ryan Dempster was placed on the 15-day DL on Tuesday with a strained left oblique.
With Sweet Lou's alleged "closer in waiting"Angel Guzman also on the DL, the Cubs turned to Bobby Howry with their save opps. Bobby closed out two games in two days over the weekend and then got beat up on Monday trying to come back for a third consecutive day.
Last night Lou went to Carlos Marmol to avoid throwing Howry in 5 of the Cubs last 6 games, and the results were good. Carlos worked an uneventful 9th with two strikeouts to collect his first career save.
If this were a blind taste test, even Lou would probably go with Marmol before Howry. The 24-year-old has upped his game in 2007 showing signs of finally having some reigns on his great natural stuff. Prior to his recall in mid-May Carlos was 4-1, 3.95, 1.02 in 8 appearances, and 7 starts for AAA Iowa. He fanned 10.5/9 while walking 2.6 with an OBA of .206
Despite the level jump and despite a shift to the bullpen with the big club, Carlos has been as good in the big leagues, striking out 12.4 with a .191 OBA, and 1.05 WHIP. His walk rate has slipped up to 3.4 in his first 21 MLB IP this year but he has lowered his HR rate to 0.4 from 0.8 in AAA.
Bobby Howry on the other hand has been a effective reliever for the Cubs over parts of two season and Lou obviously likes his veteran presence at the end of the bullpen. Bobby had two bad outings in May allowing 7 runs in 1.1 IP combined and that has blown up his 2007 stat line considerably. Otherwise, he had a pair of two run outings, and just four other outings giving up a run prior to Monday's bonfire. That is 25 appearances without giving up a run.
Howry's peripherals are sub-closer but decent nonetheless. He fans 7.6 over his career (6.9 this year) and limits his walks. He has walked 2.3/9 this year and 2.0/9 in 76.2 IP in 2005. He is not dominant, allowing a .274 OBA this year and .245 in 05 and with the Cubs, he has given up nearly 1 HR/9 (0.96 in 05, 0.99 in 06). Even is GB/FB ratio is suspect at 0.7 this year and 0.8 career. That is not the profile of a pitcher who will thrive at Wrigley in mid-summer.
Ryan Dempster figures to be out through the ASB and even though Howry is the guy right now, Carlos Marmol makes a very good spec claim at this point if you are hunting for saves. Howry is huge in the 8th inning in that bullpen set up, and Lou loves to trot him out whenever he can. He may grow tired of trying to manage Bobby's IP and he may quickly grow tired of struggling through the 7th and 8th to get to his closer. A configuration of Howry in the 8th and Marmol in the 9th makes a lot of sense for the Cubs right now until Marmol proves he cannot handle it.
Elsewhere, Troy Percival is back in the majors, awaiting his first action since 2005. In 6.2 IP with Memphis, Troy allowed a .167 OBA while striking out 12.1/9 (9 total) and walking (gulp) 6.7/9 (5). He's not a closing candidate as of yet and we will all have to await the feedback on his stuff circa 2007 from the hitters themselves before we find a slot for him. I imagine Tony La Russa feels the same way. We will keep you updated in our daily e-mails.
The closing situation in Houston bears watching even though Brad Lidge (oblique) had a positive mound session on Tuesday and hopes he can return prior to the ASB. Dan Wheeler continues to struggle blowing two leads consecutive innings on Sunday against the Rangers. Dan now has a 14.34 ERA in 11 June appearances. He has allowed 5 HRs this month and 20 hits in 10.2 IP (.392 OBA). This can't go on like this.
The Astros picked Wheeler up again on Sunday giving him the win and Chad Qualls closed that game out for his second save of the year. Chad has upped his K rate to 9.2 this from a 6.7 career rate. He is walking more hitters too, 3.1/9 this year as opposed to 2.7 career and his HR rate is up to 1.35 as well over his career rate of 0.9. He is not closer material of course but he is much closer to it than Dan Wheeler is at the moment. Phil Garner says Wheeler is still his closer but he is not a man of infinite patience. Phil will struggle with his decision on next save opp whether he admits it or not.
Lidge will solve all of this with a return in the next two weeks, but if every save counts for you right now, Qualls and Marmol may provide some in the next 7-10 days.