Cubs survive another Carlos Marmol scare, beat Pirates 3-2

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After Carlos Marmol’s shaky showing got him pulled from a save chance on Opening Day, the Cubs reiterated that he was still their closer.

Marmol, though, wasted no time in putting that to the test. Handed another 3-0 lead on Wednesday — thanks to a Nate Schierholtz homer providing two insurance runs in the top of the ninth — Marmol gave up a single, a walk and back-to-back RBI singles before finishing off the Pirates.

Manager Dale Sveum used both James Russell and Kyuji Fujikawa in relief of Marmol to close out a 3-1 game Monday, but the two fallbacks had already worked today, giving Marmol more rope than he likely otherwise would have received. Sveum did get Hisanori Takahashi up after the first run scored, but he stuck with Marmol after a visit to the mound from Chris Bosio.

Marmol escaped the jam by striking out Pedro Alvarez and inducing a double-play ball from Neil Walker. Both at-bats were pretty awful. Alvarez fanned on three pitches, the last being a slider in the dirt. Walker reached for a fastball that was outside and a bit high and, instead of going with it, tried to pull it. The result was an easy 4-6-3.

The problem for Marmol right now is that his slider isn’t diving like it once did. As a two-pitch pitcher with no command, he’s always relied on getting swings and misses on his slider. And right now, the pitch often isn’t tempting enough to chase. The Cubs can’t keep turning late leads over to him while he looks like this. Walker’s grounder may have bought Marmol a little more time to figure things out, but it’s obvious that Fujikawa is the guy the Cubs should be turning to in the ninth.

Mike Trout has a torn thumb ligament, could require surgery

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Yesterday Mike Trout left the Marlins-Angels game after hurting his thumb while sliding head first into second base. After the game the Angels talked about it as if it were just a sprain. Trout had an MRI today, however, and the diagnosis is far worse: he has a torn thumb ligament.

While a treatment option has not yet been chosen, surgery is a possibility. A certainty is that he’ll miss, at the very least, several weeks of play. He has been placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Trout, the reigning AL MVP and, without question, the best player in baseball, is batting .337/.461/.742 with 16 home runs, 36 RBI, 36 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 206 plate appearances this season. Even with the one of the weaker supporting casts in baseball, Trout had the Angels near .500 and in at least arguable contention in the AL West.

Without him, they are likely sunk. Without him, baseball is worse off.

Basebrawl! Harper, Strickland punch away, Nats-Giants fight

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SAN FRANCISCO — Nationals slugger Bryce Harper and San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland both landed punches to the head during a wild brawl that erupted Monday after a hit by pitch.

Harper was hit in the right hip by Strickland’s 98 mph fastball in the eighth inning with Washington ahead 2-0.

Harper pointed the bat toward Strickland, charged the mound and fired his batting helmet wide of the pitcher. They started to swing away and they each connected as the benches and bullpens emptied.

At least two Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the brawl all the way into the dugout. Harper and Strickland were both ejected.

In the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland. After the star’s second shot, in Game 4, he stared at Strickland as he rounded the bases.