Athletics (ss) 5, Cubs 2


"You can't have a perfect day in spring training," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Friday after a ninth-inning meltdown by his closer helped an Oakland Athletics split squad to a 5-2 victory.

Oakland starter Dallas Braden was outstanding, Chicago's Carlos Zambrano was even better and several relievers excelled, too. Then Marmol, anointed the Cubs' bullpen ace after spending most of three seasons as the primary setup man, served up Travis Buck's tiebreaking homer on his third pitch.

He followed that by hitting Michael Taylor with a pitch and giving up Landon Powell's single. After Cliff Pennington's run-scoring grounder, Marmol yielded pinch-hitter Shane Peterson's RBI single.

In his previous game, Marmol blew a save by allowing a two-run homer. He has hit a batter in three straight outings.

"His mechanics are off," Piniella said. "He was really flat with his pitches and we were wondering why. I think we found something on the tape. He's coming almost sidearm ... and you lose that good snap. It's something to work on. That's why it's called spring training."

Before Marmol came in, Zambrano allowed three hits and one earned run in six innings. That was followed by one hitless inning each by James Russell and Jeff Samardzija.

"We'd have had the superfecta but just didn't get there," Piniella said.

Braden, meanwhile, gave up five hits and two runs in six innings. Relievers Brad Ziegler, Brad Kilby and Fernando Hernandez then worked a scoreless inning apiece.

It was the longest and best outing of the spring for Braden. He went 8-9 with a 3.89 ERA in 22 starts last year before nerve damage in his left foot ended his season in August.

The condition left him with a tingling sensation in his entire foot -- and no feeling at all in about half of it. Earlier this week, a neurologist told him the numbness never would subside.

"So physically, I'm way over it," Braden said. "But mentally ... I'll circle my foot or I'll stomp my foot thinking, it's just asleep and I'll stomp it and it'll be back in 30 seconds. When it's not back is when I have to climb that mental hill and say, 'It's not coming back. Get over it. Throw a pitch."'

Braden loses his balance on the mound every so often. But because of the numbness, at least he doesn't feel the kind of excruciating pain he did in August. And he is relieved that he's been able to take his regular turn this spring.

"It's never fun to go six to eight months and wonder if you're going to be a baseball player next year," Braden said. "It's very encouraging to know that I can still go out and throw baseballs."

NOTES: Seven of Buck's nine hits this spring have gone for extra bases. The outfielder, who is not expected to make Oakland's 25-man roster, leads the team with three homers. ... Cubs OF Xavier Nady, recovering from Tommy John surgery, is expected to get his first action in the outfield Saturday after having been used exclusively at DH. "We plan on using Nady a couple times a week in the outfield early in the season," Piniella said. "He's a force. He can swing it." ... Cubs 3B Aramis Ramirez (sore right triceps) played for the first time since March 13. He went 2 for 3. ... A's 1B Eric Chavez is 2 for 25 in his last eight games. ... Marlon Byrd homered for the Cubs.

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