No sooner do the Cubs get one leak fixed than they spring another.
Before Wednesday's 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field, manager Dale Sveum said he has settled on veteran Kevin Gregg as the team's closer.
That will be the case, according to Sveum, even when Kyuji Fujikawa comes off the disabled list this weekend in Washington.
Gregg, who is 5-for-5 in save chances, pitched a scoreless ninth inning against the Cardinals as his ERA held at 0.00.
But usually dependable lefty James Russell suffered his second blown save of the season as he gave up a pair of two-out hits to left-handed batters Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran in the seventh inning. Michael Bowden then suffered the loss as the Cards scored again in the eighth.
Although Russell looked like he might have been squeezed by home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher on a pitch or two, he wasn't making excuses.
“I feel like the 2-2 pitch to Beltran could have gone either way, but that's the way it goes sometimes,” said Russell, whose ERA went from 0.00 to 0.68. “If I make a better pitch to Carpenter, I'm not in that situation. I hung a curveball to him, he hit my mistake. That's what good hitters do. He kind of made me pay for it.
“For some reason, the lefties that they have over there hit left-handers pretty well. (I've) just got to find some different things to do against them.”
Lefties had been hitting .154 against Russell, whose blown save cost starter Carlos Villanueva a chance for a win. Now that the closer situation is settled — for now — Sveum was asked about the middle relief.
“Well, obviously not,” he said. “We just can't seem to shut anybody down in that sixth, seventh inning. We're getting two strikes on people. We just can't make a pitch when he have to.”
Villanueva (3.02 ERA) has not won a decision since April 18. He described Wednesday's outing as a “battle,” and he got help from 3 double plays while he was on the mound.
He came out for the seventh inning having thrown 89 pitches. Pete Kozma walked to start the inning, but David Descalso struck out and Kozma was caught stealing for double play. In came Russell, who gave up a double (with an error to right fielder Nate Schierholtz) to Carpenter and Beltran's game-tying single.
Villanueva would loved to have finished the inning.
“Of course,” he said. “I'm out there. I thought after that double play, it would have been nice (to stay in the game).
“But sometimes it works out. Russ has been perfect. I have all the confidence in the world. It happened. If you ask any starting pitcher, if you ask any of us, we never want to come out of the game, even when we should come out.”
The Cubs took a 4-2 lead in the fourth on a 2-run double by Schierholtz and an RBI groundout by Dioner Navarro. But they didn't score again, and the bullpen now is 9-for-18 in save situations.
Maybe things will stabilize when Fujikawa gets back. Maybe not.
“We've been pretty (darn) good throughout this year,” Russell said. “We just had a couple bad breaks. Everybody has all the confidence in the world. I feel like our staff has confidence in us, also.”
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