Right-hander Kevin Gregg took his place in the parade of major league pitchers who worked in Sunday's "B" game, but didn't take it personally.
The Orioles have to schedule extra spring games to get enough innings for all the pitchers in camp, and it wasn't like Gregg was being relegated to a lower class of competition. He pitched between possible No. 1 starter Tommy Hunter, who apparently has won his bout with lower back soreness, and left-hander Zach Britton, who was testing his injured shoulder for the first time in a game.
Gregg isn't hurt, unless you count his pride. He struggled through a rocky 2011 season and arrived in camp with his job as the closer very much in doubt. That's why he was on the back field, working on some mechanical adjustments he hopes will get him back to the point where manager Buck Showalter wants to give him the ball in every save situation.
No sense getting too technical. Gregg is tweaking one of his pitches and moving more toward the first base side of the pitching rubber. He hopes that having a slightly better angle will keep the ball "on the plate" just a little longer.
"I think we all make adjustments as we go through each year," he said, "Otherwise, we wouldn't stay in the big leagues. We'd be passed over pretty quickly. Obviously, last year I think there are things to improve on for pretty much everybody because we lost so many games. It's not just an individual thing. As a team I think we have a lot of things we need to improve on."
Still, it is a team sport played by individuals who must continually justify their respective roles, which is why Gregg must feel like he's in no-man's land right now. He signed with the Orioles after saving 37 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, but converted just 22 of 29 save opportunities in 2011.
By the end of the season, he was sharing the save opportunities with Jim Johnson and hearing rumors that he might be traded or backed into a setup job. Halfway through spring training, the picture hasn't gotten much clearer, but Gregg will not join in the speculation about his future with the Orioles or possibly without them.
"You're going to have to ask Buck [Showalter]," he said. "If I got to make the roles, obviously I would pick what I want to pick. But Buck makes that decision. I'm working on some things, trying to make myself better from last year, trying to help the team get better. And the bottom line is, as much as my year was a down year per se, I still think there's some credibility that I've had [59 saves] in the AL East in the last two years."
Showalter has been non-committal about the likely configuration of the bullpen, but he isn't overlooking what Gregg can do and what he has accomplished as a closer, even if there were times last year when his command of the strike zone eluded him.
"I think he would be the first to tell you [the problem was] command of his fastball," Showalter said. "Usually, whatever walks might have come were what the situation dictated in the past. You watch this guy work in the bullpen and you'd never think command would be an issue. If he's off the plate a little bit, it's usually by design. He had some good stretches for us, too, last year, but not the consistency that he's capable of. There's not many guys who have the track record of doing things in our division."
It goes back farther than that. Gregg had saved at least 29 games in three of his previous four seasons before joining the Orioles, so he probably has a right to believe his pedigree as a closer probably shouldn't be based so heavily on his performance during a season that was a struggle for just about everybody.
"Hopefully, you don't use last year's track record because that wasn't my best showing," he said. "I think the fact that I had 37 saves the year before, and there are other things that aren't accounted for, things that we do on the field. I think at times last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself because we weren't coming across a lot of wins. A lot of my save situations were one-run [games], and there was a lot of added pressure to it. I think I may have been trying too hard to preserve it because it wasn't coming at a regular clip — the chance to win games."
Whether he gets that chance again depends on a number of factors. There's little question he'll be an important part of the bullpen that breaks camp next month if he's still in an Orioles uniform, but there is bound to be some trade speculation as the Orioles get closer to Opening Day.
Gregg says he wants to stay.
"When I signed here last year, I signed with the intention of competing for the closer role, and that's my intention right now," he said. "If [Dan] Duquette and Buck end up coming across a deal that they feel is best for the organization, than I deal with it, but right now I want to be an Oriole. I want to play for these guys. I want to be a part of this team."
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