SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — Kevin Gregg and Jim Johnson are in a fight to be Baltimore’s closer.
When the Orioles signed Gregg before the 2011 season, they thought they had their closer for at least two years. He had 22
saves in 29 chances. Johnson had nine in 14 and the Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter was impressed by the 28-year-old
Now Showalter says the competition for the job is open.
“We’re still looking at all the options. We’ll separate that before too long,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to push that.”
Johnson hadn’t pitched this spring until Tuesday due to a back injury. He allowed three runs on four hits in an inning against the
“It felt nice to get back out there. That’s about it,” Johnson said. “It was the first real game action I have had, so it was
good. Arm didn’t hurt. Back didn’t hurt. That’s a positive, the results were obviously not too good, but that’s what we are here for.”
Baltimore’s manager wasn’t worried about Johnson’s rocky outing.
“It didn’t surprise me. There are some things he wasn’t able to do in the offseason,” Showalter said.
Late last season after a series of rough outings, Johnson supplanted Gregg. He converted his last eight save opportunities,
but Showalter didn’t hand him the closer’s job. He thought about converting him into a starter.
“I was planning on coming in here ready to throw multiple innings if there was an opportunity in the rotation,” Johnson
said. “We kind of agreed that I was going to go to the bullpen, which was not a big deal,” Johnson said. “I enjoy playing, so it
doesn’t matter where I’m at.”
Johnson staying in the bullpen became a moot point when the Orioles acquired several candidates to start, but only a few
relievers — and not until late in the winter.
They picked up Luis Ayala as a free agent and Matt Lindstrom in a trade — both of them with closing experience, but it’s apparent it’s Johnson’s job.
Gregg has another season left on his contract, and he doesn’t want to be anywhere else.
“Last year when I came here, I was signed to be the closer. On a personal effort, I didn’t do my best last year,” Gregg said.
With Johnson, Ayala and Lindstrom, Alfredo Simon and Pedro Strop, Baltimore has lots of right-handed options for the bullpen.
The Orioles might like to trade Gregg, but with a $5 million contract, he may be hard to move.
“That’s nothing I can control. I signed to play here for two years, maybe three,” Gregg said. “I’m not concerned with that.
That’s their decision. The whole reason I signed here was to be here.”
Quite a comedown for a pitcher who averaged 30 saves in the four seasons before he came to the Orioles. In 2010, he had a
career-high 37 saves with Toronto.
“There are not many guys on our club who have the track record of doing the things in our division. He’s certainly experienced,”
Gregg has appeared in two games, allowing two runs in two innings.
Johnson was a minor league starter who was converted to a reliever in 2008. That year, he didn’t give up a home run in 68 2-3
As he grew more and more confident in a set-up role, the Orioles felt confident enough to trade All-Star reliever George Sherrill in
July 2009, but Johnson was uncomfortable as the closer. He converted eight of 11 save opportunities.
He felt more at ease last year — and he’s trying not to be something he’s not.
“I wouldn’t call myself a strikeout pitcher. I’ve called myself a strikeout pitcher. It doesn’t work for me,” Johnson said. “I give up a lot of hits because of the way I pitch. I give up a lot of singles. If I give them a walk, I’m doing them a favor. I need them to hit their way on.”
Gregg claims not to be bothered by the perception he’s lost the closer’s job.
“Right now, I’m not concerned with what innings I’m pitching in,” he said. “I’m just trying to get myself physically ready and
get myself in a good spot to pitch, to do what I did in the past. I need to go through the rigors of spring training to get myself
ready for the season.
“I definitely feel like there’s a difference between pitching the seventh and the eighth compared with the ninth inning, but
bottom line is you got to get people out.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)