Carlos Marmol has returned to form in the second half, throwing eight scoreless innings since the All-Star break with 14 strikeouts, seven walks and two hits allowed.
"I feel pretty good," he said. "Just like the old Marmol."
The "old Marmol" was nearly unhittable in April and May before going through a slump in June and July. But a surprise invitation to the All-Star Game to replace Kerry Wood seems to have turned him around. He threw scoreless ninth innings Friday and Saturday against Pittsburgh, striking out five in the non-save situations.
"I think the All-Star Game helped me a lot," Marmol said. "I put more focus on what I'm doing now, just like I had to focus during the All-Star Game."
Wood is scheduled to throw to hitters Sunday without protective padding on his affected index finger in the hope he can make a return to the roster during the upcoming series with the Astros, perhaps as early as Tuesday.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild declined to give a timetable for Wood's return, saying, "We'll see where we are" after Sunday's throwing session. But sources indicated Saturday that Wood believes he has turned a corner and that his return is imminent.
If Marmol and Jeff Samardzija continue to pitch well and Wood shows no rust in his return to the closer's role, the Cubs can ease Bob Howry's workload to get him fresh for the stretch run. The key is Marmol.
"He really has rebounded well," general manager Jim Hendry said. "It's hard to keep anybody"starter, late-inning reliever, hitters"outstanding and on top of their game for 162 games. Carlos really had a bit of a snag, but I was very proud of the way he handled himself in New York in the All-Star Game.
"As much as we wanted to get him the rest, it was probably a good thing for him. It was a little confidence booster"something everybody needs every now and then in life. There is no fear involved. He always has welcomed it any time Lou (Piniella) and Larry wanted to put him in in the ninth. He likes that, and I'm sure down the road that's what he aspires to do."