Assessing the Orioles’ closing situation

Orioles reliever Jim Johnson has been getting the ball in save situations, although manager Buck Showalter didn’t rule out the potential of incumbent closer Kevin Gregg and Pedro Strop both getting chances in the ninth inning before the season is through.

“We might be in a situation where a guy’s pitched enough innings and we’ve used him a couple days in a row and somebody else gets an opportunity,” said Showalter, who has given the ball to Johnson for the save in five of his last six outings. “But I don’t think [Strop is] going to be our closer next year.”

The more hotly debated topic is whether Gregg (0-3, 4.61 ERA) will be.  Signed as a free agent to a two-year deal with an option for a third, Gregg (20-for-27) has been erratic at best and has blown three of his last six save opportunities. Johnson (5-5, 2.72 ERA) is a guy the Orioles have wanted to try to stretching out as a rotation candidate for next season, and Showalter still wasn’t ready to rule out the long-rumored possibility of Johnson getting a start before season’s end.

“It depends on what Boston’s status is, kind of, when we play them at the end of the season, and [the next series in] Detroit,” said Showalter who has tried to maintain competitive integrity given how close the American League Wild Card race has become. “But the problem with that happening is it precludes Jimmy from being able [in relief] in [the last series with] Boston, and I don’t know if that’s fair to Tampa.”

There is also the argument that it might not be in the Orioles best interest to take Johnson, who is their best reliever, out of a bullpen that already figures to need extensive rebuilding this offseason. Asked if there can be any made of the fact that Johnson –who has pitched to a 1.69 ERA in his last 15 outings – has gotten the ball more often than Gregg in the ninth-inning, Showalter wouldn’t reveal his cards.

“I’m not going to start handicapping that,” Showalter said of next year’s closer, adding that there is still the potential for Gregg to get a few more save opportunities this season.  “There’s very few opportunities to see a guy pitch in those kind of pressurized situations. I’m trying to take advantage of as many of those as I can and still give us a chance to win.”

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