ATLANTA (AP) — Carlos Marmol still believes in himself as a closer.
It’s hardly safe to say the Chicago Cubs feel the same way.
Marmol failed to convert a save for the second time in three chances this week — this time giving up solo homers in the ninth inning to brothers B.J. and Justin Upton as the Cubs blew a four-run lead and lost 6-5 to the Atlanta Braves.
“I’m trying, I’m trying,” Marmol said. “I don’t lack confidence. They’re hitting my pitches, though.”
Only Chicago manager Dale Sveum knows which relief pitcher to try next.
Kyuji Fujikawa, who bailed out Marmol to earn the save in Chicago’s season-opening win at Pittsburgh, allowed three runs in the eighth that cut the lead to 5-4.
Sveum plans to meet with his coaching staff and figure out a plan for the back of the bullpen.
“I think we’re definitely going to talk about it now, but Fujikawa struggled, too,” Sveum said. “It was unfortunate.”
Sveum was likewise despondent over the Cubs’ inability to score off young Atlanta relievers Anthony Varvaro and Cory Gearrin despite having the bases loaded twice in the top of the eighth.
Chicago is hitting .143 with runners in scoring position after going 2 for 11 on Saturday.
“We still struggle with those men in scoring position to put the game away there,” Sveum said. “To get one out of that would have been nice. The fact of the matter is we had a chance to put the game away and we didn’t do it.”
Marmol and Fujikawa wasted what would have been a victory for starter Carlos Villanueva.
The Cubs had taken a 5-1 lead on Nate Schierholtz’s RBI single, Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer, Luis Valbuena’s solo shot and Wellington Castillo’s RBI single.
Chicago loaded the bases in the eighth off Varvaro, but earned nothing for the effort. After second baseman Dan Uggla threw to catcher Gerald Laird for a forceout, reliever Gearrin retired Starlin Castro on a flyout and struck out Rizzo.
That set the stage for Atlanta’s three-run eighth off Fujikawa. Freddie Freeman’s RBI single scored Justin Upton, and Ramiro Pena followed with a two-run single to make it 5-4.
“(Fujikawa) didn’t have his split (fastball) today,” Sveum said. “His split was just flat. It wasn’t doing anything. He didn’t locate his fastball tonight. It was up in the zone.”
Marmol had already been through a tough week. He was pulled from a save situation after facing four batters and not recording an out in Chicago’s win at Pittsburgh on opening day, but he earned a save on Thursday against the Pirates despite giving up two ninth-inning runs.
Marmol blames poor location of his pitches with his most recent struggles.
“I tried to do my best out there,” he said. “I need to locate my pitches more. That’s why they’re getting hit.”
The Upton brothers, major offseason acquisitions for Atlanta, became the 25th tandem of brothers to homer in the same major league game and the first since Adam and Andy LaRoche accomplished the feat for Pittsburgh on June 17, 2009.
Making his first start since signing with the Cubs as a free agent in the offseason, Villanueva gave up six hits, one run and two walks in 6 2-3 innings. He struck out six.
Rizzo was 1 for 14 when his second homer of the season gave the Cubs a 4-1 lead. Schierholtz followed with a double and scored from second on Castillo’s single to make it 5-1.
Villanueva began the game with a 12-18 record and a 5.33 ERA in 44 career starts with Milwaukee and Toronto, but the right-hander settled down after Upton’s solo shot made it 1-all in the first.
Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran allowed eight hits, five runs and one walk with two strikeouts in five innings. The 22-year-old right-hander dropped to 1-2 with a 5.79 ERA in five career starts.
Valbuena’s first homer put the Cubs up 2-1 in the fourth. After the Cubs’ three-run fifth, Teheran left for a pinch-hitter.
Eric O’Flaherty (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth despite allowing a hit and walk.
Marmol (0-1) gave up two hits, both solo homers, in one-third of an inning. His ERA ballooned to 27.00.
Villanueva has spent much of his career as a reliever and knows this is a tough time for Marmol, who has converted just 82 percent of 142 save chances over his last seven years with the Cubs.
“It’s tough,” Villanueva said. “I’ve been through it. I just hope that he understands that we’ve only had five games. I’m more concerned for how he feels.”
NOTES: The teams combined for 25 hits. … Braves SS Andrelton Simmons was out of the lineup with a sprained left thumb. … B.J. Upton batted in Simmons’ leadoff spot. … Pena took Simmons’ spot in the field and went 1 for 4 as the No. 8 hitter. … Teheran had his first career hit with a single in the third.