Despite signing veteran Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year, $9.5 million contract this offseason, the Cubs entered the 2013 season with erratic incumbent closer Carlos Marmol still in the closer role. Four batters into Marmols' season, however, he may have already lost his job.
The Cubs handed Marmol a 3-0 ninth-inning lead in Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon, a lead established by a two-run home run by Anthony Rizzo in the top of the first and held by an outstanding outing by Jeff Samardzija, who threw eight scoreless innings while allowing just two hits and a walk and striking out nine. Marmol struck out the first batter he faced, Garrett Jones, but it took him eight pitches to do so. He then hit Andrew McCutchen with a 1-0 pitch and gave up an RBI single to Pedro Alvarez. After a visit to the mound, he walked Gaby Sanchez on five pitches to put the tying run on base, at which point Cubs manager Dale Svuem pulled the plug and went to his bullpen. Lefty James Russell got Neil Walker to fly out for the second out without the runners advancing, after which Svuem brought on Fujikawa to get the final out, which he did on two pitches when Russell Martin flied out to center, securingChicago's 3-1 win over Pittsburgh. It has been widely assumed that Fujikawa would take over as Cubs' closer at some point this season given that Marmol briefly lost the job last year and the team tried to trade him in the offseason. It could well be that we saw that change happen on the field on Opening Day.