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Kevin Gregg awaiting closer call

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Updated: May 26, 2014 6:43AM



It was right about this time last year that the Cubs finally got their closer situation under control and stabilized the back end of their bullpen.

This year? Yeah, right.

Did you see Jose Veras in that low-pressure outing Thursday, helping turn a 3-1 game into a 5-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks? Or Pedro Strop walk two of the first three he faced in the ninth Wednesday on the way to a blown save?

As the Cubs added extra arms to a maligned and beleaguered bullpen Thursday, the question starting to be asked on Twitter — and around the dugout — is, whatever happened to Kevin Gregg?

“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m just waiting for an opportunity.”

The man who saved 33 games for the Cubs in 2013 after being signed in mid-April is still looking for big-league bullpen work nearly a month into the season — despite late-inning breakdowns in pens from Oakland and Anaheim to Chicago, Minnesota and Philadelphia.

“I see the situation [the Cubs] are in,” Gregg said. “I keep up with my friends and teammates from the past. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. Who knows? Who knows what they’re thinking?”

He also sees the struggles other teams are having in their pens and has been in contact with several since last fall who were willing to take no-risk fliers on him (none of them are the Cubs, by the way).

He’s not sure why he hasn’t gotten the guaranteed big-league offer he sought, especially considering that he’s willing to sign as a setup guy with games-finished incentives for earning save opportunities.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Gregg, 35, who says he’s staying in shape by working out and pitching to college hitters near his home in Oregon.

“I know I can pitch in the big leagues,’’ he said. ‘‘I know I can get outs in the big leagues. I know I can still close; I did it last year. Some people point to my second half not being as good as my first half. It wasn’t too far off. I pushed hard because we weren’t winning a lot of games, and maybe I tried to do a lot by myself when I shouldn’t have.”

Despite an ERA that jumped from 2.97 in the first half to 4.08 after the All-Star break, Gregg converted 33 of 38 save chances overall, including 16 of 19 after the break.

The Cubs are just 2-for-6 in save chances with blown saves by three pitchers. Strop’s blown save Wednesday came on the anniversary of Gregg’s first save for the Cubs.

Yet a guy with 177 career saves who isn’t looking to break anybody’s bank can’t get a big-league look.

“I still feel very confident in the arms that we have,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said as the team added rookies Zac Rosscup and Neil Ramirez to the bullpen, settling on an extra reliever in a series of moves that also included optioning reliever Blake Parker to Class AAA Iowa and putting outfielder Justin Ruggiano (hamstring) on the disabled list.

Gregg’s strange ending with the Cubs — when he publicly criticized management after a game the final week for suggesting to media Strop would replace him, drawing the ire of team president Theo Epstein — all but ruled out a reunion this year.

But what about any of the other teams around the majors with bullpen needs? Are closers really that easy to find?

Certainly not if you look at the Cubs’ pen.

“A lot of guys think anybody can pitch the ninth — especially sabermetrics guys who come up with a state for everything,” he said. “They think everybody can pitch the ninth inning, but, for some reason, those last three outs aren’t the same.’’

If the Cubs are interested by the way, ‘‘Theo has my number,’’ Gregg said.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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