Gregg's re-emergence a pleasant surprise
Future with club uncertain, Cubs closer seeking to finish season strong
CHICAGO -- September is evaluation time, and there are players on the Cubs' roster now, like Donnie Murphy, who are hoping to impress the front office to give them a chance next year. There are also youngsters, like Zac Rosscup, who may not get many innings but will benefit from the experience of being in the Major Leagues.
And there is Kevin Gregg, who doesn't consider September to be any different than May, June, July or any other month.
"Obviously, you want to perform and do everything you can to finish strong," Gregg said, "but any pressure of like, 'I've got to do more' -- no."
"I've got to be consistent and do what I do," the 35-year-old reliever said. "Big league teams look for consistency. If you only [evaluated] on hot streaks or only went on a cold streak, you can pick and choose at a long time. If you put together a full year, you're looking for quality and consistency."
It's been a strange ride for Gregg this season. He did not sign with a team until Feb. 10, when he agreed to a Minor League contract with the Dodgers shortly before Spring Training. The Dodgers were counting on Brandon League as their closer, and Gregg was released April 3 when they decided they had enough setup arms.
The Cubs began the season with Carlos Marmol as their closer -- remember that? -- but he was removed from that role after the first week of games, and Kyuji Fujikawa took over. Fujikawa struggled with an elbow injury, which eventually needed Tommy John surgery.
Gregg signed a Minor League contract with the Cubs on April 14, and on April 16, he joined the big league team. He picked up his first save April 23 in his third appearance with the team, and then went 12-for-12 in save situations.
On Wednesday against the Marlins, Gregg picked up his 29th save, one shy of his third 30-save season. He totaled 32 in 2007 with Florida and 37 in '10 with Toronto.
Last year with the Orioles, Gregg did not get a save opportunity in 40 appearances. In May, he converted his 150th save and became one of nine active pitchers to reach that figure.
When this season began, could Gregg have imagined he'd save this many games? He laughed. It depends on when you ask him.
"No, I wasn't expecting it," Gregg said. "I knew [the Dodgers had] signed League and in that situation, who knows how that would've worked out.
"Everything has so many spider webs that go out in different scenarios and can create different things. I'm pleased with the way I've done so far and took advantage of an opportunity that was here. I had to come in and pitch for it, which was fine, and that's what I expected to do. I've been rewarded."
The Cubs have 23 games remaining, and if all goes well, Gregg could join Joe Borowski (2003), Ryan Dempster ('05) and Lee Smith (1984 and '85) for 10th on the team's single-season saves list at 33.
On Wednesday, manager Dale Sveum said they may look at Pedro Strop in save situations in the final month to see if he can handle that role. Gregg does not have a contract for next season, and if he does not get another save, he has contributed to the bullpen in ways that can't be measured by sabermetrics.
"We were able to pick up [Gregg], we were able to get Matt Guerrier, we were able to get Pedro Strop and we were able to get Jake Arrieta," Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio said of acquisitions over the season. "The one thing these guys all have in common is their competitiveness. Kevin Gregg might have been overlooked, Pedro Strop, [the Orioles] might have given up on, or Jake Arrieta. Sometimes just getting to a new place where they feel good about themselves is all they need."
Arrieta was Gregg's teammate in Baltimore for two seasons, and they were reunited when the Cubs dealt Scott Feldman to the O's for the starter and Strop.
"He's a guy who comes to the park and puts his hard hat on and goes to work," Arrieta said of Gregg.
Gregg has kept an eye on the young relievers, like James Russell and Blake Parker.
"I think you look down there and see what you've got and it's good," Gregg said of the state of the Cubs' bullpen. "This is a solid team. This bullpen is put together well, the rotation is put together well. The way Carlos started the year was disappointing. Things could've been a lot different if he'd been pitching better, but he's been throwing good lately [for the Dodgers] and I'm excited for him.
"'Fuji,' the way he was pitching, you didn't expect [him to struggle]," Gregg said. "You didn't expect Marmol to. [Shawn] Camp was coming off a great year and was struggling hot and cold. There's three of your four back guys. Over the last five months, you've seen some guys emerge -- what Russell's doing, Parker, Pedro. Hector [Rondon] has had his bumps and bruises, but he's learning and has a great arm and a great attitude about it. You're looking at a lot of things that have been put together, and it's doing well."
The statistics don't necessarily agree. Through Wednesday, the Cubs lead the National League in number of relievers used (21), with three on the roster who have yet to get into games. The Cubs' bullpen is 14th in the NL in ERA and second in blown saves (25). Russell, who began the year strong, then scuffled, has seven blown saves; Gregg five.
"I don't think you'll have any idea at the end of this season about what's going to happen," Sveum said about the 2014 bullpen. "So many things go into play there, and it's a long offseason. There's no way you can predict or plan what's going to happen by Spring Training next year."
So where will Gregg be pitching next year?
"That's a long time from now," Gregg said. "We all look at next year, and we all look at what direction it's going to go. In the bullpen, I'm the only guy they don't have control of. The ball's in their court. I'll address that when they want to address that. I'm looking to finish strong."
Which is what September is all about.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.