Orioles' Gregg enjoys having competition for closer's job

After shaky start, right-hander has converted three straight save chances

April 28, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

Orioles closer Kevin Gregg isn't getting too excited after converting three consecutive save opportunities or making four straight hitless appearances.

That seems fitting since he stayed calm after his first five outings, which included allowing hits in each and blowing a save at Yankee Stadium on his first pitch, a homer by Jorge Posada.

"I don't think I would be here right now if I doubted [my ability]," Gregg said. "There are days when you are not throwing the ball the best and you still have to believe in your ability and what's going on. As soon as you panic, that's when things are going to go haywire for you. I didn't panic; I believe in what I was doing and my preparation was there, and I knew it was going to come back around."

Gregg, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Orioles this offseason after saving a career-high 37 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, has allowed eight hits, five walks and three runs in nine innings this month. All eight hits and four of the five walks occurred during his first five outings. In his past four games heading into Thursday, he allowed no hits, issued one walk and converted three saves.

"We said when we signed Kevin, there weren't many guys floating around that have saved 37 games in the American League East last year," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He has been as advertised. He doesn't get too up or down. He understands the volatility of those situations, emotionally, from people."

When Gregg struggled early this month after an uneven spring, fans began clamoring for Koji Uehara, who ended last season as the Orioles' closer, converting 13 of 15 save opportunities. The Orioles have three other relievers, Jim Johnson, Michael Gonzalez and Jeremy Accardo, who have saved at least 10 games in a big league season.

Gregg said he didn't care that there was a groundswell for a replacement. In fact, he spins it another way.

"It is easy for everybody outside this clubhouse and outside this game to say they should go with [somebody else]. But that's a testament to who we have on this staff," Gregg said. "If we didn't have these guys out there, you guys wouldn't have questioned it at all. But it puts a question in your mind because, here's the thing, we have viable options. So that's a testament to the guys I am surrounded by. And I love that."

Showalter said what he likes about Gregg is that he doesn't back down from anyone. In Wednesday's game against the Boston Red Sox, Gregg was summoned with a one-run lead to start the ninth. The Red Sox countered by pinch hitting Marco Scutaro, who was 5-for-12 against Gregg lifetime. Gregg went right after Scutaro, inducing a flyout that started a 1-2-3 ninth.

"It wasn't something where Kevin went out there and threw four balls way out of the strike zone. He said: 'Here it is, here's mine. Let's see what you've got,'" Showalter said. "I think it is the timidness that Kevin doesn't exhibit. He is very comfortable in his own skin."

Gregg said attributes his recent success to several things, including more consistent work and being inserted in several save situations.

"There are so many variables that can play a part, and I can't put my finger on any one single thing. It's just nice to get everything going," he said. "It is getting to the end of April; I better be getting my stuff right by now."

Pitchers clear latest tests

Left-hander Brian Matusz (left intercostal strain) and right-hander Chris Jakubauskas (right groin strain) threw 35-pitch bullpen sessions Thursday, and both said they felt pain-free.

"Felt really good. No pain at all," said Matusz, who has been out since the season started. "Felt like I got stronger as I kept going. Once the bullpen was done, I was kind of like, I feel loose now. I'm ready to do more. Which is a good sign."

Jakubauskas, who was placed on the disabled list retroactive to April 17, said he feels better than he has in weeks.

"It went well. It's really encouraging how much it has gotten better in the past six or seven days," Jakubauskas said.

Jakubauskas will fly to Louisville, Ky., this weekend and pitch two to three innings there Sunday for the Orioles' Triple-A Norfolk affiliate as part of a minor league rehabilitation assignment. He is eligible to be activated Monday, though it is possible he could be activated and sent back to Norfolk, where he began the season.

Matusz will return to the organization's minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla., this weekend and pitch at least one game in extended spring training. He will make at least three minor league rehab appearances before being activated. Where those games will be has not been announced.

Other injury updates

Showalter said shortstop J.J. Hardy (strained left oblique) took "15 dry swings; 25 off the tee with no problems, which is something he hasn't done; threw it 120 feet; and ran sprints."

Hardy is expected to hit soft toss and take grounders Friday in Sarasota. No timetable is set for his return.

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