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The early season struggles of the bullpen are nearly the only thing for folks to complain about, so naturally, they’re complaining.

Specifically, the lone lefty in the pen, Neal Cotts, has been a disaster. Not only can he not get guys out, but he’s struggling just to throw strikes – in his last appearance, he faced two Cardinals, walked them both, and didn’t throw a single strike.

But what are the Cubs to do? After all, they have to have a lefty in the pen, and there is not another lefty in the Cubs’ system who is close to ready for the big show.

Or is there a more creative method to improve the bullpen?

Because of Sean Marshall’s success in the bullpen last year, and in the swing role, it was only a matter of time before people realized, “hey wait, Sean Marshall is a lefty, isn’t he?” Why can’t the Cubs, so the thought would go, move Marshall into the pen, send Cotts packing, and move someone else into the rotation? And what if that someone was Jeff Samardzija?

Notwithstanding the possible problems with this plan, the idea is gaining traction – and the season is only two weeks old.

Samardzija pitched six one-hit innings on Saturday, and appears to be back to the old Samardzija after a rough spring in Arizona. If Neal Cotts continues to struggle, the Cubs could bring up Samardzija as a starter and make Sean Marshall the left-hander in the bullpen, though nothing appears imminent.

“Jeff is stretching out fine and working on his other pitches,” Hendry said. “That was really encouraging. You can always go from starting back to the pen. We’re just going to try and keep him really tuned up and get him a little better, and whenever we need him, in whichever role we need, we’ll get him up here.”

Marshall has made only one start and hasn’t gotten a chance to prove himself as a starter. But the Cubs know Marshall will do whatever’s best for the team, even if it means going back to the bullpen for a while. Hardball.

Though it is obviously necessary to have a lefty in the pen, having two in the rotation is also a plus. Further, if Marshall pitches like he did in Spring Training, no amount of Neal Cotts struggling can justify taking Marshall out of the rotation. And why don’t the Cubs just pursue a LOOGY from outside of the organization?

Howeva.

I love Sean Marshall, but we cannot ignore the fact that he has, consistently, had trouble going even moderately deep into ballgames. If he can’t start going more than five innings on a regular basis, the calls for a shift to the pen will gain a second tier of legitimacy – because then it’s not just about fixing the lefty in the pen, it’s about protecting the pen from overuse.

Of course, this all begs the other half of this move – which pitcher is the best replacement for Marshall in the rotation? Perhaps it is Samardzija – whom Jim Hendry obviously envisions as a future staple in the rotation (probably a replacement for Rich Harden next year) – though his stuff, to me, has always appeared best when he can let it all hang out for an inning or two. And then there’s Aaron Heilman, whom I know Hendry wanted in the rotation from the word go, but whom I can tell Lou Piniella would be loathe to lose from the bullpen.

In any event, it’s worth keeping an eye on all of these pitchers. A combination of Cotts sucking, Marshall going just five innings, and Samardzija looking solid starting in AAA will not have to last terribly long for something like this to go down. For better or worse.

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