CHICAGO -– For Chicago Cubs pitcher Kevin Gregg, the ninth inning isn’t like any other inning. Many try to treat it that way, but sometimes accepting it for what it is – three outs filled with tons of pressure –- is the way to go.
“I’m trying to act like it’s the ninth inning and we’re trying to win,” Gregg stated bluntly before earning his fourth save in as many tries on Monday in a 5-3 Cubs win over the San Diego Padres.
And it’s not just finishing off games, it’s how he’s doing it: three 1-2-3 innings over the last four days. The tornado that was the Cubs bullpen as recently as a week ago has dissipated. Still, Cubs manager Dale Sveum doesn’t want to put a label on Gregg or anyone else. He won’t name a closer.
"You definitely don’t want to rock the boat when things are going pretty good at that back end of the bullpen when everyone is healthy and ready to go that night,” Sveum said. “Right now it could be one of four guys, it just depends on the match-ups.”
Even though Carlos Marmol was warming up as Gregg’s spot in the order was approaching in the eighth inning, Sveum admitted he was only going to use him if the game broke open. Even if the Cubs scored just one run to take a 6-3 advantage – and still had men on base -- Sveum said he would have “let Gregg go up there and take pitches.” In other words, if there is a save situation to be had, expect Gregg to be in it.
“I trust myself, I trust my ability,” Gregg said. “My first couple of outings I was still getting my feet underneath me.”
But since then he’s been lights out. His ERA is 0.00 and his ninth innings have been as quiet as his personality.
Calming presence for sure,” Jeff Samardzija said. “Just his demeanor and how he goes about his work every day.”
Gregg has come out of nowhere just when the Cubs needed him most. Marmol has been ineffective as a closer while his replacement, Kyuji Fujikawa, is hurt. Gregg pitched well in spring training but didn’t have a team when the season opened. The Los Angeles Dodgers cut him.
“They had so much pitching over there, he just kind of got pushed out,” Sveum said. “Was a good sign for us.”
Ironically, it was the Cubs’ struggles in the back end of the bullpen that drew Gregg to the Cubs. He knew he might get a chance to close out games again.
“I’ve done it a few times in the past, I’m comfortable with it,” he said.
And fans are getting used to him in his second stint in Chicago. Monday marked the first time he entered the game in the eighth inning of a save situation. Gregg took over for James Russell, who left the tying runs on second and third for him. Less than a minute later, he was out of the inning with a comebacker, and in the ninth inning he struck out two and got a groundout.
“His location with his fastball has been everything,” Sveum said. “He’s able to locate the ball inside and outside with movement. He’s been great.”
Just don’t call him the closer.
“He’s going to do at least one thing a day that’s going to change that aspect of a game.” -– Sveum, on second baseman Darwin Barney’s defensive prowess. He made a diving stop in the seventh inning to preserve a lead.