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Piniella holds off on final bullpen decision
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/28/2008 12:11 AM

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MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella has been so wowed by Carmen Pignatiello that he might be changing his mind about which left-handed reliever makes the team.

Piniella changing his mind is hardly a news flash, but just a day or two ago, Sean Marshall was in and Pignatiello was out.

"The way Pignatiello is pitching, it's starting to make you review your choice a little bit," Piniella said before the Cubs tied the Milwaukee Brewers 10-10 in the Arizona finale. "Not that we don't like Marshall. We do like Marshall.

"Boy, this young man (Pignatiello) has really, really pitched well this spring. He's pitching with confidence, and he's done that role before. I'm not saying things are going to change, but he's made us rethink."

So Piniella could change his mind?

"He's made us rethink," the manager responded. "I'm not going to say another word. We're going to take this decision to Vegas."

By rights, the 25-year-old Pignatiello should not have given up a run this spring. He's 0-0 with an 0.90 ERA and 2 saves in 10 games. The only run against him came Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants, when Reed Johnson lost a flyball in the sun, leading to a run.

Pignatiello, a graduate of Providence Catholic High School in South suburban New Lenox, has given up 5 hits in 10 innings while striking out eight and walking none.

The Marshall-Pignatiello battle has become an issue only this week, when lefty Scott Eyre came down with a bone spur in his pitching elbow, forcing him to miss the start of the season.

Marshall has 45 games of big-league experience, 43 as a starter, but the Cubs are trying to give him a crash course in bullpen work, and Piniella said he feels some loyalty to the 25-year-old pitcher.

This spring Marshall is 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA in six games, 2 of them starts. In 14¿ innings, he has given up 15 hits while striking out 10 and walking nine, including 3 walks in 2 innings Thursday.

What could give Pignatiello a late edge is that he is a reliever by trade. He has limited big-league experience, working in four games for the Cubs last year.

"No question, we understand that," Piniella said about Pignatiello being used to relief situations. "We have felt all along this spring that Marshall could pitch out of the bullpen, that he's had good success against left-handed hitting.

"With the depth that we've had in camp pitching wise, we'd have probably been a little more prudent to have made that switch a couple weeks ago. We were forced to, with the Scotty Eyre thing.

"We didn't think that we'd have room on the roster for two lefties. That's why that wasn't made. But as it turned out, with Scotty's elbow acting up a little bit, if we had done this a couple weeks ago, we'd have had a real clear-cut answer on the subject."

Instead, the competition will head for Las Vegas, where the Cubs finish the preseason with a pair of games against the Seattle Mariners.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has said Pignatiello's effective sinker has given him confidence with his fastball, and that the curveball always has been good.

"No question," Piniella said. "I kept asking Larry yesterday, 'What is this pitch? What is that pitch?' The curveball is down at the knees. We're putting this kid in save situations. We're not giving him the sixth inning with losing by 3 runs, where you're pitching relaxed. We're putting a little importance to his performance."