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When does spring performance matter?

4/3/2014

PITTSBURGH -- Someone needs to explain to me when exactly spring training performance matters.

For the second consecutive year the Chicago Cubs have a closer who had a bad spring training and then went out and blew his first save attempt. The Cubs showed no concern over Carlos Marmol's 6.97 ERA in the spring of 2013 and subsequently he lost his closer’s job by the end of the first week of the regular season. Could the same fate face Jose Veras?

Veras had a memorable 38-pitch Cubs debut on Wednesday night in blowing a 12th-inning save against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He threw 19 balls and 19 strikes while hitting a batter, walking two and giving up a game-tying base hit. But hey, he struck out National League MVP Andrew McCutchen to extend the game. The damage was done and the Cubs eventually lost in 16 innings.

“That’s part of the game,” Veras said afterwards. “It happens. You can’t control those things.”

Well, actually, you can control some of those things. In fact, you can control your control. Veras was all over the place -- which brings us back to spring training.

“Veras knows how to get himself ready," manager Rick Renteria said back on March 25. "Most closers during the spring don't have the best outings. I'm not concerned. ... When the lights turn on sometimes it's a whole different ballgame."

That was said in the midst of Veras producing a 7.00 ERA during Cactus League play. And this wasn’t a veteran working on a new pitch or a pitcher with the resume of Mariano Rivera. This was a second-year closer who was all over the place with his stuff -- just like Marmol before him.

“I’m still not worried about him,” Renteria said after Wednesday’s loss. “We got him up a few times over there. That was his first outing out there. I actually thought he was going to get through it, to be honest with you.”

So the spring didn’t matter for the veteran Veras, but somehow it mattered for Donnie Murphy (.200, 1 HR) and Mike Olt (.276, 5 HR). The former was put on waivers and the latter won a roster spot because of their spring production. It mattered for non-roster invitee John Baker and 40-man roster guy George Kottaras. One earned a contract, the latter was released. It mattered for Ryan Kalish (made it) and Josh Vitters (didn’t). It just didn’t matter for the closer.

Once again.

Because of his high pitch count Veras is unavailable on Thursday, so perhaps Pedro Strop will get a save opportunity. He could be the closer of the future or maybe it’ll eventually be prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who throws nearly 100 mph. But Vizcaino is at Single-A right now. Veras certainly will get some more chances to close out a game, just like Marmol did.

“I feel good,” Veras said. “I was ahead of the hitters on the first two guys. They just battled and battled but I got in trouble when I hit the guy.”

Sounds a lot like the last guy who owned the job out of spring.