SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — When the Baltimore Orioles signed Kevin Gregg earlier this year, it was assumed that he would be their closer. Now after yet another setback to Koji Uehara, that assumption seems to be much closer to reality.
Uehara, who ended last season as Baltimore’s stopper after enduring his fourth trip to the disabled list in two seasons, received a cortisone injection in his right elbow on Thursday. He said he expects to be pitching “within a week.”
Manager Buck Showalter said Uehara’s injection doesn’t mean Gregg is assuredly the closer, but he’s impressed with the 6-foot-6 right-hander.
“It’s only been a couple outings,” Showalter said. “He knows where the finish line is and he’s been impressive. He’s gotten such quick outs.”
Gregg signed a two-year, $10-million contract with the Orioles after averaging 30 saves over the past four seasons. In his first two appearances, he’s pitched two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit.
“I’m getting to know everybody. I’m learning a whole organization from the top down,” Gregg said. “It’s a process, but I’m getting the handle on it.”
During spring training closers don’t pitch in the eighth or ninth inning. They pitch earlier in the game when they’re facing front-line players. On Thursday, Gregg worked the third against Minnesota and Uehara was slated to work the fourth before he was hurt.
“It’s not even serious. I’m not concerned about it,” Uehara said through a translator. Uehara said he was suffering from “arm fatigue,” but fans shouldn’t fret. “I’m just being on the safe side. I’m not really worried,” Uehara said.
Last season, Uehara didn’t walk a batter in his last 24 appearances, but concerned with his durability after repeated injuries to his elbow and hamstring, Baltimore signed Gregg.
Uehara claims not to be upset with Gregg’s arrival.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Uehara said. “It’s more important to be on the mound than roles, so it doesn’t concern me,” he said.
Gregg, who had 37 saves with Toronto last year, likes the Orioles’ bullpen with Uehara, Michael Gonzalez and Jim Johnson — all of whom have closed — and doesn’t think it’s a competition.
“I don’t really see it as me and Koji going head to head or me or Gonzo,” Gregg said. “We’re out there showing Buck. He really hasn’t seen me pitch. I’m just trying to show him what I can do.”
Besides a new manager for Gregg, both he and Uehara have a new pitching coach, Mark Connor, and that doesn’t matter to Uehara.
“I can’t really tell the difference,” Uehara said.
Uehara sends his son to school in Baltimore, but in his third season in the U.S., still speaks little English, and wanted to re-sign with the familiar Orioles.
“The family likes it here. Obviously my personal attachment to Baltimore was a big factor.”
For Gregg, it was the opportunity to pitch against the best — the AL East — which he saw up close with the Blue Jays last season.
“You’ve got to play New York and Boston 18 times. That wasn’t a concern of mine,” Gregg said. “If I execute my pitches. It doesn’t matter if I’m facing New York or Kansas City,” Gregg said.
“Overall, you’ve got to look where the organization’s going, where the team’s going, the direction. The personal opportunity to win.”
Showalter likes something else about Gregg.
“He’s capable of pitching more than one inning,” Showalter said.
Last season, Gregg rarely pitched in even part of a second inning. He threw 30 pitches just twice in 63 appearance.
Now with a team he thinks capable of great improvement, Gregg is looking forward to the cohesiveness of an effective bullpen.
“I want everybody to put their best foot forward. The better we are as a whole, the better we’ll be as individuals,” Gregg said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)