Waiting for Gregg to be great

We’ve grown accustomed to the Orioles crashing in August, though last year proved the exception. I wonder if they’re aware that it’s still April.

Same first letter, different month.

The losing streak has reached eight games, but I’m still not in panic mode. That’s mostly because it’s baseball, which doesn’t freak me out unless it forces me to rewrite a game story in the ninth inning or a screaming line drive is headed for my larynx.

Still, it’s disturbing that the Orioles got off to such a good start - 6-1 as I recall - and no longer can produce a win. If the starting pitching isn’t killing their chances early, the offense goes into full shutdown mode. And too many times, both issues crop up in the same game.

Chris Tillman wasn’t at his finest, but three runs in 6 2/3 innings counts as a quality start. He didn’t walk a batter. He retired 11 in a row. He did enough to earn a victory, except the bats didn’t wake up until the seventh and three solo home runs weren’t going to cut it - especially with Kevin Gregg allowing two runs in the ninth.

By the way, two readers asked why Tillman was tagged with the loss instead of Gregg. The Orioles trailed when Tillman departed and never tied or took the lead. The Twins led 3-0, 3-2, 5-2 and 5-3. That’s the reason.

Gregg still hasn’t turned in a clean outing in five tries. He would have blown a save at Tropicana Field if Nick Markakis hadn’t made that incredible leaping catch at the fence. He gave up two hits in his next outing, a hit and a walk in the one that followed and Jorge Posada’s game-tying home run in New York.

Last night was the ugliest. I know Posada’s homer stung like shoving a hornet’s nest down your pants, but Gregg did battle back to strike out two batters. Against the Twins, it was a slow torture in front of an agitated home crowd that included 34 pitches (only 16 for strikes). He allowed two runs and two hits, walked two and threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded.

Fans booed the leadoff walk and kept bringing the heat. It reminded me of the days of Terry Mathews, Mike DeJean, Jim Brower and, most recently, Michael Gonzalez.

Didn’t Doug Jones salute the fans with his middle finger before reaching the dugout?

Gregg’s ERA went from 0.00 to 5.40 in his last two appearances. Easy to overlook that he hadn’t allowed a run until New York. A ninth inning specialist needs to produce 1-2-3 innings. Lots of them. It’s in the Closer’s Handbook.

The Orioles aren’t going to give up on Gregg after five outings, not with his ... wait for it ... track record. We’re talking 121 saves over the last four seasons. He’s been pitching every fourth day this season - April 2, 6, 10, 14 and 18. In spring training, he wanted the ball every other day. Maybe the solution is to give him more work, though save chances aren’t readily available these days.

I believe that Gregg’s struggles in spring training, which left him with a 9.82 ERA, are contributing to the hostile greetings. He didn’t make a good first impression, and it’s carried over into the regular season. Plus, a lot of people wanted Koji Uehara to close. He made an impressive transformation from gassed and fragile starter to beloved ninth inning control artist.

Fans screaming for Uehara will get their wish tonight if the Orioles take a slim lead into the ninth. Gregg won’t be available after 34 pitches. But he’ll close again when he’s available. Manager Buck Showalter isn’t giving up on Gregg in April.

It’s up to Gregg to win back the fans. It’s up to the fans to decide whether Gregg is going to get the DeJean treatment.

Or is it Heathcliff Slocumb?

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