Sveum drops closer-by-committee; Gregg gets gig
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org May 8, 2013 9:26PM
St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs
Updated: May 8, 2013 11:59PM
The last time Kevin Gregg did this, the Cubs were coming off their best record since 1945 and had serious plans for a third consecutive division title.
It didn’t go quite as well as planned that 2009 season. In fact, it’s been downhill from there, at least for the Cubs.
But Gregg, the one-time Cubs closer who departed as a free agent after that season, has seen a reversal of fortune, suddenly — and officially — becoming a two-time closer for the Cubs on Wednesday.
“There’s not many guys left from when I was here the first time,” said Gregg, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning Wednesday in a 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field. “Obviously, there’s a different attitude, a different direction that it’s going.”
Different manager, pitching coach, general manager, team president and owner, too.
“I think it’s a better direction for the organization and what they’re trying to accomplish for the city,” Gregg said, “for everything going forward.”
Given the woeful performance of a bullpen that once again couldn’t hold a late lead Wednesday, Gregg might have a disproportionate effect on the short-term direction.
He has converted all five of his save chances since the Cubs signed him as a minor-league free agent April 15 after the Los Angeles Dodgers released him. The rest of the bullpen has converted four chances — and has blown nine.
If he stabilizes the closer role, he could give the low-scoring, occasionally sloppy-fielding Cubs a chance to win a few more games.
More likely, he could give the Cubs a valuable trading chip during another deadline sell-off in July.
“I’m not worried about that,” Gregg said. “I don’t think about it that way. I’m here now, and that’s all I can control. The way they handle that going forward, that’s up to Theo [Epstein] and those guys.
“They’re going to decide how they want to build this team for now and in the future. I’m excited to be here and be a part of this team and will be until I’m told otherwise.”
Manager Dale Sveum will do what he can with his hot hand while he has him.
“With the problems we had, he’s just been a great pick-up, and obviously he’s run with it,” said Sveum, who publicly scrapped his closer-by-committee approach. “Those last three outs aren’t made for everybody. He’s a veteran guy that doesn’t panic. He throws strikes. He’s obviously earned it.”
Closing wasn’t the Cubs’ problem Wednesday. James Russell allowed the tying run in the seventh — his first run allowed this season — and Michael Bowden gave up the go-ahead run in the eighth.
The pen should get reinforcements Friday, when former closer Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow) returns from the disabled list to join the Cubs for their series opener in Washington. Fujikawa had two scoreless minor-league rehab appearances, including a two-inning stint Wednesday. Rafael Dolis likely will be optioned to Class AAA Iowa.
The shuffling won’t affect Gregg’s role.
“It doesn’t change my approach on how I prepare every day,” Gregg said. “I think it just allows guys to slot into roles. Hopefully, it calms things down out there and people will have success.”
Gregg lost the closer job in 2009 to Carlos Marmol, who went on to earn a three-year, $20 million deal — and become a lightning rod for Cub fans.
“It’s the position I have coveted for years now,” Gregg said. “I want to be the guy. I want to be the guy at the end of the game.”