The key ingredient: a short memory.
This time last year, Gregg was coming off arguably his best major league season, setting a career high with 37 saves with the Blue Jays. The Orioles rewarded him with a two-year, $10 million contract with a third-year option.
A year later, he enters spring training as an enigma. His seven blown saves last year opened the door for Jim Johnson to take over save chances late in the season. And Johnson's success in that role -- he converted all seven save opportunities in September -- makes him, not Gregg, the favorite to close entering the spring.
This offseason, while the Orioles' focus has been stockpiling starting pitching, the organization flirted with signing veteran closer Francisco Cordero, who ultimately signed with the Blue Jays. There's also talk of reacquiring reliever Koji Uehara -- Gregg's chief competition for the closer job last spring -- from the Rangers.
Gregg's offseason hasn't been spectacular either. Flooding in his hometown of Corvallis, Ore., this month forced his family to evacuate their home for two days and caused him to miss FanFest two Saturdays ago. All that aside, the 33-year-old Gregg said he will go into spring training looking to win the closer job, just as he did last spring in Sarasota.
"I think my experience speaks for itself," Gregg said by phone Friday. "Last year was definitely not the most notable year I could have, but the majority of our team can also say the same thing. As a group, when you lose that many games, you all have something to improve on.
"There was a stretch in there that wasn't exactly great. But as I recall, I think I got the last two saves of the season when the opportunities [arose]. Jim Johnson took some of the workload late in the year, but he was also being rewarded for how well he was doing, too."
Gregg -- who finished last season with 22 saves, his fewest since becoming a closer -- did convert his final two save chances during a late-September series in Detroit. But after his final blown save Sept.10 against Toronto, Gregg made just five more appearances, while Johnson finished eight games for the Orioles and converted all five save opportunities in that span.
That was a contrast from how Gregg's season began. He converted six of his first seven save opportunities through the first week of May. But as the Orioles' young starting pitching struggled, the few save opportunities he received were magnified. He issued a career-high 40 walks (and a robust six walks per nine innings). An ugly outing in an 8-5 win over Detroit on Aug. 14 -- when Gregg failed to get an out against six batters in the ninth inning of an 8-1 game and allowed four runs, including walking in two runs -- began a second-half tailspin in which he pitched to a 7.26 ERA in his final 17 appearances.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter praised the way Gregg handled his struggles last season.
"Kevin is a very competitive guy who went through some good times and some bad times last year," Showalter said. "His stuff is as good as you can find. He's a very win-oriented guy and he wants to see the Orioles win. He got frustrated at times, but he never made excuses. He's got quite a background in pitching late in big games, and I'm looking for him to have a better season than last year."
It will be up to Showalter how the bullpen shakes out. But Showalter, who has said he's intrigued by the bullpen's makeup this season, said he still sees Gregg as a huge asset.
"Guys like Kevin never put any limitations on themselves," Showalter said. "Whatever role he ends up being in, I have the expectations of him pitching late in close ballgames."
Gregg expects the same. The restructuring of the Orioles' bullpen will be one of the most interesting storylines this spring. And even though pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., in less than three weeks, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will continue to focus on upgrading the team's pitching top to bottom.
Meanwhile, Gregg realizes he has something to prove.
"I've prepared for this coming season," Gregg said. "I've been making some minor adjustments. I'm looking forward to another spring starting again. You can get picky about certain things. You typically can break it down all you want, but to me the bottom line is winning and putting the team in the chance to win.
"[Last year] really leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I think we're looking to obviously improve on that. I think we all have something to prove to ourselves and to the rest of the league."
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