MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Marmol may not know which year produced the best pinot noir, but bullpen coach Lester Strode does, and he made the Cubs closer pay for it.
At the end of last season, Marmol had to buy Strode and Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio one case of wine. Marmol isn't a connoisseur. He lost a bet. Here's the deal: the right-hander owed the Cubs coaches a case for every time he shook off his catcher. Last year, he did it once.
Strode did the shopping, sticking primarily to pinot noirs and chardonnays from the Flowers Vineyard & Winery of the Sonoma Coast in California.
After a rough April, in which Marmol gave up five runs on seven hits and six walks in 7 2/3 innings, he was told that he could no longer disagree with his catcher. Whatever the sign was, that's what Marmol had to throw.
"It worked," Marmol said Friday. "It keeps it simple, and you don't think too much when you go out there and pitch."
From May 2 until Sept. 14 last year, Marmol converted 19 straight save opportunities and gave up one earned run over 18 1/3 innings. He might have had more, but the Cubs didn't have too many save situations.
Is the same deal in place this year?
"Oh, yeah," Bosio said Friday. "I tried to get one out of spring because the one double he gave up [Feb. 24], he shook off. I said, 'You owe us the same.' He said, 'No, no, no, that's not part of the bet.'
"I said, 'When do we start?'" Bosio said. "He said, 'We start during the season.' But on [Thursday], he didn't shake off."
And on Thursday, Marmol had a clean inning against the Athletics, although he did walk a batter.
"It was a really competitive [at-bat]," Bosio said of the walk. "We're not happy about walks at all and it's one of our high priority things this year as we move forward. It was a good competitive at-bat and he threw a really nice 3-2 breaking ball that could've gone either way.
"Bottom line, it was a walk, but he's not as sporadic," Bosio said. "There's command there. He had very good life on his fastball. He was down in the zone. He was throwing a slider for strikes. That's the Carlos that we expect and he expects of himself."
It's been good for Marmol to focus on baseball this spring. Just before pitchers and catchers reported, Marmol had to appear in court in the Dominican Republic. He faced charges of domestic abuse by a woman there. The woman asked for money, and Marmol's lawyers are dealing with the possible blackmail attempt. As of now, Marmol did not expect to have to return for additional court proceedings.
In games, he's letting his catchers do the decision making.
"I did it for the last four months of last year," Marmol said about not shaking off the signs, "I'm going to keep doing the same this year."
The one time he digressed cost him. The bottles from Flowers range from $38 to $70.
"It was just one -- that's not bad," Marmol said, laughing.
It'll be up to catchers Welington Castillo and Dioner Navarro to do the thinking for Marmol.
"The one thing it does with Carlos is it just makes the tempo better and makes him more aggressive with his stuff," Bosio said. "He has the conviction that we saw for the last four months of the year. That's all we're asking out of him.
"He knows he has it in him, we know he has it in him," Bosio said. "This last outing was the Carlos that we saw in the last four-month period when he was so good."
Which is what the Cubs hope to see all season.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less