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Orioles' Gregg hangs on to closer's role

A day after Kevin Gregg squandered a one-run lead in a loss to the New York Yankees, Orioles manager Buck Showalter wouldn't change his stance on the team's closer situation.

He also didn't publicly endorse Gregg as his exclusive closer, even though all signs point to that being the case. Gregg has been on the mound in both of the Orioles' ninth-inning save opportunities, and he's also warmed up two other times for a save situation that never came.

"In my mind, I know where we are, just because we don't make a formal announcement on what we're doing every day," Showalter said. "We'll still kind of go with where we are [situationally], but we're too young in a season. We feel like we have some people capable of doing the job and Gregg's pitched pretty well for us. When Koji [Uehara] gets right, he'll figure more into the equation when he gets physically where he needs to be."

Uehara, who has dealt with both elbow and hamstring problems the past couple of seasons, still isn't available to pitch on back-to-back days. However, Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor have been regularly checking in with the pitcher and Showalter thinks the right-hander could be ready to go back-to-back by early next month.

Asked how much does Uehara's health factors in his decisions on the closer role, Showalter said, "Somewhat, and Kevin is pretty good at it. He's had three scoreless outings until [Thursday] night. I was most impressed with how he handled the adversity after the fact."

Trying to protect a 5-4 lead, Gregg surrendered a homer to Jorge Posada on his first pitch of the ninth inning. The next batter, Curtis Granderson, hit a double, but Gregg stranded the potential game-winning run by striking out Russell Martin and Brett Gardner and retiring Derek Jeter on a groundout.

In four one-inning appearances this month, Gregg, who was signed to a two-year, $10 million deal in January after he saved 37 games for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, has allowed one run on six hits and two walks while striking out four. However, he's been shaky in both save opportunities. Nick Markakis' spectacular leaping catch at the wall on Ben Zobrist's drive saved Gregg from a potential blown save in the Orioles' 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on April 2.

Gregg, who took accountability for Thursday's loss, acknowledged that it would help to get a little more steady work. The Orioles have been involved in very few close games, limiting some of the opportunities for their back-end relievers. They also are carrying an eight-man bullpen, meaning that Showalter has had to spread the work around.

Entering Friday's series opener against the Cleveland Indians, Gregg, who has averaged 70 appearances over the past four years, has pitched just twice in the past eight days. Uehara has made just four appearances all season, retiring 11 of the 12 hitters that he's faced.

"It's hard to keep your feel," Gregg said. "You are throwing once every three or four days. You are really not in a rhythm. You are trying to get a feel each time you go out there. I mean we are professionals, we should get the job done, but it's easier for us if we do get steady work and be in save situations or tight games a little more often just to be in control of that situation."

Matusz still not cleared

Starter Brian Matusz, who is on the disabled list with a strained left intercostal muscle, still hasn't been cleared to resume throwing from the mound. The plan remains for Matusz to rejoin the club when it returns home next week and throw some bullpen sessions in front of Connor and bullpen coach Rick Adair, but that will only happen if the lefty gets clearance to start pitching from off the mound.

"He's alright, he's progressing," Showalter said. "We're not going to push it. He still feels it a little bit, but he's getting pretty close. We'll err on the side of caution, that's for sure."

Showalter said that Justin Duchscherer, who had an injection in his left hip earlier this week, will resume throwing on Monday. Shortstop J.J. Hardy (strained left oblique) felt improved Friday, Showalter said.

Arrieta goes back to fastball

Jake Arrieta absorbed one of the of the worst outings of his young career on April 9 when he was knocked around by the Texas Rangers for eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. If Thursday's start against the New York Yankees was any indication, he learned a valuable lesson in the process.

Early in the game and any time that he got in trouble against the Yankees, Arrieta turned to his fastball, the pitch that he got away from in the third inning of his previous outing when he surrendered six runs to Texas.

Showalter sat next to Arrieta on the bench for an extended stretch after the right-hander's early exit against the Rangers and reminded him to stick with what he does best. It worked against the Yankees as Arrieta allowed three runs in six solid innings before settling for the no decision.

"Just being aggressive with my fastball and not getting to the offspeed before I needed to," said Arrieta of the key to his outing. "I think that's what I did in that third inning against Texas, just throwing offspeed pitches for no reason. I got to be aggressive with my fastball. I have a good one. "

Around the horn

Chris Tillman turned 23 on Friday. … All uniformed players from both teams wore No.42 in celebration of Jackie Robinson Day … Right-handed pitcher Oliver Drake (Navy) was transferred from Single-A Frederick to Double-A Bowie … Infielder Bobby Stevens was transferred to Frederick.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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