Uehara, Gregg eager to compete with, learn from each other

Pitchers both want to close but are looking forward to sharing bullpen

February 14, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — Koji Uehara and Kevin Gregg played catch Monday before the first workout for Orioles pitchers and catchers, a fitting arrangement for two relievers who figure to be linked all spring.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter isn't expected to settle on a closer much before Opening Day, but both Gregg and Uehara have made it clear that they want that responsibility. They also reiterated Monday that their competition will only help the bullpen become a strength of the club.

"The situation is going to bring out the best in everybody," said Gregg, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Orioles in January after saving 37 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010. "What we've done in the past plays. We know what we have, we know what we've done. I think there's a good chance that I can learn from him and he can learn from me. Everybody, hopefully, is going to grow as a bullpen and really shorten the game for our starters. I'm excited. It's always fun to be part of a good bullpen."

Uehara, who converted 13 of 15 save opportunities last season, also said he was looking forward to learning more about his new teammate. However, he said, his immediate goal is to make sure he stays healthy and avoids the lingering injuries that have hampered him the past two seasons, contributing to four trips to the disabled list.

Hamstring issues have forced Uehara, 35, to miss extended stretches in each of the past two springs.

"I'm very cautious of [the injuries]," Uehara said through interpreter Jiwon Bang. "I'm going to try to not get into that."

Showalter said he spoke to Uehara on Monday about "being sure he knows where the finish line is. It's not March 1."

"We're cognizant of what the challenges are for him physically," Showalter said. "He's going to have to do certain things for us to be comfortable with [his] having a meaningful role. This guy is [almost] 36 years old. He's been over in America long enough to know what's going on."

Showalter has said several times this offseason that he hopes Gregg and Uehara both have great springs, forcing him into a difficult decision.

Who closes is "for the manager to decide, but at the same time, that's where I'm aiming at — that position, that role," Uehara said.

Guthrie laughs off scare

It's never a good sign when your likely Opening Day starter falls off the mound and onto his back during his first bullpen session of the spring. That's exactly what happened to Jeremy Guthrie, whose left foot gave out on one of the final pitches of his session. He stayed on his back for a while until Gregg helped him up.

"It wasn't a scary moment," said Guthrie, who was otherwise pleased with his performance. "My foot slipped out from underneath me."

Erbe, Lebron progressing

Twenty-nine of 30 pitchers were in attendance at the first workout, with the exception being Alfredo Simon, who remains in a Dominican Republic prison as the main suspect in a manslaughter investigation stemming from a New Year's Day shooting.

Showalter said the only two pitchers who are restricted are prospects Brandon Erbe (McDonogh) and Luis Lebron. Erbe had surgery to repair a torn right labrum in August, while Lebron had Tommy John ligament-reconstruction surgery in May.

"Our best hope is that they don't have any setbacks and they make progress and we deliver them to Twin Lakes healthy," Showalter said. "I think Lebron is a little bit further ahead than Erbe, the way I understand it. I don't think you'll see them throw in a game here."

Slimmed-down Berken throws

When he talked to the media this afternoon, Showalter still hadn't gotten an opportunity to check how his players weighed in during their physicals. However, he didn't need to see any paperwork to learn about the improved conditioning of Jason Berken.

Berken has lost 30 pounds since last season to better deal with the rigors of being in the bullpen. Berken, 27, was the team's most effective reliever in last season's first half before a right shoulder injury ended his season.

"He looks great," Showalter said. "It's good to see the young guys get their arms around things like that where they don't become an issue. There are enough challenges between the lines. It just became a priority for him, it looks like. It shows you something. The shoulder feels good, too. It's good to see him get up there today."

Around the horn

Second baseman Brian Roberts passed his physical Monday and took some swings in the cage with hitting coach Jim Presley. Several other position players are in town and will work out Tuesday. … Pitching prospect Matt Hobgood, the Orioles' first-round pick in 2009, will see team doctors here Wednesday to determine whether he'll stay the course with the rehabilitation program for his right shoulder or consider other options. Hobgood, who has a right rotator cuff strain, won't be ready for the start of the season. … If Vladimir Guerrero passes his physical Wednesday, he's expected to be introduced in a Friday news conference. Guerrero would wear No. 27. … WBAL-AM 1090 will broadcast 16 of the Orioles' spring training games, including the team's opener Feb. 28 and its home opener March 1.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

For a full list of the Orioles' spring training games to be broadcast on WBAL, go to baltimoresun.com/oriolesinsider.

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