Heading into his 10th season, Luke Gregerson will be the first to admit that he’s not the proverbial established closer. Getting closer to home and having the chance to win meant more than the lure or potential to be a closer topped his list while seeking a new team this off-season.
“We didn’t even have the conversation,” answered Gregerson of potentially closing affected talks with the Cardinals. “Obviously, we worked things into the contract to compensate if something like that did happen but it was never a discussion or deciding factor of me coming over here. I just want to pitch, I want to help out any way, shape, or form I can and that’s pretty much all there is.”
While the season may dictate otherwise, as things currently stand Gregerson has been acknowledged as the closer by team president John Mozeliak.
“Til they tell me otherwise, that’s kind of what I’ve been hearing,” smiled Gregerson. “No one’s really talked to me about it, but yeah. Wherever I’m needed, I’ll do my best to plug it in and keep pitching.”
And while he’s willing to take on any role, Gregerson is like most pitchers and would like as much clarity as possible before a game for sake of preparation. If he could be closing things out, Luke shared he wouldn’t start to get ready until the 7th. Otherwise he begins his routine in the 5th.
“I’m not going to sit down there and just keep burning energy for no reason,” he said. “At times, it is nice because you hear that phone ring in the 7th inning and you think ‘okay, like I need to be ready now’ and this guy’s in. You’re like okay. The phone rings again in the 8th inning, you’re like ‘okay, I’m for sure in’ and you get up, but nope that guy’s in and you’re like, ‘what’s going on?’ And that’s happened before–numerous times. I think it just helps to know from a mental, physical standpoint just to be ready.”
In 2015, Gregerson earned 31 saves but since then has been used more in the setup innings. Aside from preparation, how different is it for him approach wise to close things out versus come in earlier in the game?
“I think from a mental standpoint it can–just knowing that you have to get the last three outs to make sure the game is over, make sure you guys secure that win,” answered Gregerson. “With that said, you could pitch in the 7th or 8th inning and face 2-3-4 or you could pitch the 9th and face 7-8-9. It all depends on where you’re at in the lineup, where the meat of the order is sometimes that will give you the biggest fits but I think at the end of the day, you face those guys the same way you would in the 7th, 8th, or 9th. I think you just have to go out there with the same mentality of, ‘hey, I faced these guys two innings ago I can face them now. What’s the difference? Let’s get these three outs. Let’s get this game over with’.”
Last season with Houston, Gregerson threw 61.0 innings in 65 games. More notable were the career highs in ERA (4.57) and home runs allowed (13).
“I think you have to take the numbers into account,” assessed Gregerson of how he pitched in 2017. “Obviously, the ERA was a disappointment for me, personally, for my career. But if you look at a lot of the peripheral numbers, and you take a way two baseball games, I think I had a pretty normal year for myself.
“A couple games, I’d say three games in particular that just kind of got away from me. Not sure what happened. I guess you can call it baseball, you can call it what you want. Take a few of those away and I had a pretty decent, normal year. Strikeouts were up. Velocity was pretty much the same as it normally is.”
The fourth appearance of last season was particularly damaging, as Gregerson gave up a pair of homers and six earned runs in 0.1 innings. That ballooned his ERA from 0.00 to 16.20.
“Those given days that I mentioned, for some reason, the sinker isn’t sinking,” he explained. “The slider isn’t sliding. You’re like, ‘what’s going on today?’ It’s just one of those things you’ve got to leave in the past and move forward. Got a new season, a new team, and keep firing.”
Relying on a his slider and sinker, Gregerson will also mix in a changeup to keep the batters guessing. And while his strikeouts were indeed up compared to the last few years, going for the swing and miss isn’t always the strategy.
“I like contact,” said Gregerson. “If you can get the ball on the ground somewhere, I don’t want it in the air but if I can get a quick out–if I can go out there and throw three pitches and get three outs or throw 30 pitches and get three strikeouts, I’m taking the three pitches and three quick outs any day of the week.
“Now the count, position, I think all of that stuff dictates how you’re going to pitch a guy. So if I can get ahead of a guy quick, then yeah, now I’ll try and go for the punch out. If a guy’s on first and second, 1 out, I’ve got a guy 0-2 but I know I can throw a sinker on his hands and get him to roll over to third–it’s kind of a toss-up at times. It’s worked out in the past and it hasn’t worked out in the past. It just kind of depends on the situation, the count, and just let the game tell you how it’s going to go sometimes.”
Which seems rather appropriate as the game could have a larger role than usual on how the backend of the bullpen takes shape for the Cardinals this season.
–Drafted by the Cardinals in 2006, Gregerson shared that his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game for the team came not as a pitcher, but as a pinch-runner for Yadier Molina.
“I’m sitting there in the bullpen, legs up, 9th inning, someone’s pointing down to the bullpen,” he laughed. “The ball got hit, I ran halfway to third, game was over…On the radio, my parents said on the radio they said ‘good ol’ 99 is coming up’, they didn’t even know my name.”
Gregerson will now wear #44 for the Cardinals.
photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com