- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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CHICAGO – The youth in the Cubs’ bullpen was an area of concern for the club as it left spring training. It was the team’s most seasoned relievers, however, who faltered in pressure situations during Thursday’s Opening Day loss to the Washington Nationals.
After starter Ryan Dempster departed with a two-hit shutout with two outs in the eighth inning, Kerry Wood was called in to try to get the final out. The typically reliable Wood walked three batters and threw a wild pitch in failing to hold a 1-0 lead.
“It was one of those days, Ryan pitched great,” Wood said. “He deserved to win, we deserved to win. I don’t think I even had a three-ball count in spring, and then I walk three guys in a row.”
Matters only got worse, Marmol gave up the winning run in the ninth on Ian Desmond's two-out single.
Thursday’s showing from the bullpen was ominous. Wood and Marmol will have to lead this season’s thin bullpen after an offseason shakeup that included the team dealing Sean Marshall to Cincinnati and Jeff Samardzija is in the rotation.
“You are down there as a group,” Wood said. “It’s not one or two guys, we are down there as a group trying to win games, so I don’t think we have to do anything special.”
Marmol, coming off a 2011 season in which he blew a league-high 10 saves, worked on a two-seam fastball during the spring. The theory is to try induce more groundball outs rather than hoping to strike out every hitter.
Wood also made an early adjustment that new pitching coach Chris Bosio recommended by shortening his stride toward home plate.
Cubs’ management is out beating the bushes for another left-hand bullpen guy to go with James Russell. That kind of addition alone will help Dale Sveum bridge the gap between his set –up man and closer the rest of the season.
The veterans in the Cubs' bullpen let down in atypical fashion on Thursday.