Orioles' Gregg says he's not worried by lofty walk totals

Closer has issued 18 free passes in 201/3 innings, drawing concern from Showalter

May 31, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SEATTLE — There are times when the walks have certainly irritated Orioles closer Kevin Gregg.

He didn't want to walk Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia in the ninth inning of a one-run game against the Boston Red Sox on May 16, leading to Adrian Gonzalez's game-winning two-run double and the Orioles' crushing 8-7 loss at Fenway Park.

He also wasn't pitching around any of the three Oakland Athletics batters whom he walked in the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday with the Orioles trailing by two runs.

However, there have been plenty of other times this season when Gregg considered a walk not too bad of a result. The most recent example was Thursday against the Kansas City Royals, when in a tie game in the 10th inning, Gregg pitched around Jeff Francoeur with a man on third and two outs and intentionally walked Billy Butler to get to the batter he wanted to face, Alcides Escobar, who flied out to end the inning.

"Walks aren't ideal. I wouldn't say that I expected to walk as many guys as I have," said Gregg, who has issued free passes to 18 hitters in 201/3 innings. "But I'm still going to make my pitches on my counts and keep going forward. Am I concerned about it? No. It's not like I'm [throwing] balls all over the back screen."

Gregg might not be concerned, but his inability to consistently throw strikes certainly has the attention of manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor.

The good news is that of Gregg's 18 walks, only three have turned into runs. However, the veteran has gone to three-ball counts with 31 of the 91 batters he has faced this season, and Showalter knows his closer can flirt with trouble for only so long before it starts hurting the team.

"Yeah, it's a concern," Showalter said of Gregg, who is 8-for-11 in save opportunities. "Those things will come back and bite you. Kevin's got good command. He tries to make that perfect pitch all the time. A lot of times, it works out really well. But his track record shows you that's not something that should continue to happen."

Gregg, 32, has always put up relatively high walk totals, but nothing like what he's doing this year. He saved 37 games for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, walking 30 batters in 59 innings. The year before, he walked 30 in 682/3 innings for the Chicago Cubs.

He attributes his issues this season to never really getting into a rhythm, mostly because the types of games the Orioles have been playing haven't allowed it. Gregg has made 21 appearances for the Orioles, but he has had only one save situation in the two weeks since he blew the game against Boston.

"When I got in the stretch in early May where I was pitching in a lot of close games, I didn't walk anybody," he said. "To me, I'm a rhythm guy, and the more I get out there, the better I feel."

Fox sits again

The thought was that the promotion of Craig Tatum to serve as backup catcher would free up Jake Fox and lead to his being used more at first and third base, especially against left-handed pitching. Fox, however, was not in the lineup again Tuesday, the second straight game against a lefty starter in which he hasn't started. Fox is hitting .188 (9-for-48) with two homers and four RBIs and is just 3-for-28 against left-handed pitching.

"If a guy is playing well and hitting well, it's not that hard to find opportunities," Showalter said. "Jake hasn't made good use of the opportunities he's had, with some exceptions. We saw in spring training in that environment what he's capable of. So we will see."

Around the horn

Center fielder Adam Jones (sore right shoulder) returned to the Orioles' lineup after being removed in the fourth inning Sunday and missing Monday's game. … First baseman Derrek Lee (strained left oblique) will take batting practice Wednesday and could start a rehabilitation assignment for Double-A Bowie this weekend. Showalter said Lee might not need more than one or two rehab games. … Starter Jake Arrieta, who got hit in the left shin by Ichiro Suzuki's come-backer Monday, got through his post-outing workday and remains on track to make his next start Saturday.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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