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Long road leads Gregerson back to Cards camp

St. Louis drafted reliever in 2006
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- Ten years, three teams, thousands of sliders and two combined World Series titles separate Luke Gregerson's two appearances at St. Louis Cardinals camp, a wider moat than many cross to debut with the team that drafted them.

Signed to a two-year contract over the winter, Gregerson reported to camp Tuesday as the club's nominal closer and biggest free agent splash. Seated at his new locker, he recalled his first Spring Training with the Cardinals, in 2008, when he held a much humbler status.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Ten years, three teams, thousands of sliders and two combined World Series titles separate Luke Gregerson's two appearances at St. Louis Cardinals camp, a wider moat than many cross to debut with the team that drafted them.

Signed to a two-year contract over the winter, Gregerson reported to camp Tuesday as the club's nominal closer and biggest free agent splash. Seated at his new locker, he recalled his first Spring Training with the Cardinals, in 2008, when he held a much humbler status.

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"I pinch-ran for [Yadier Molina]," Gregerson said, when asked what he remembers from then. "The ball got hit, I ran halfway to third and the game was over. The radio [broadcast] didn't even know my name."

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Gregerson, whom the Cardinals picked in the 28th round of the 2006 Draft, spent that season at Double-A Springfield before being traded to San Diego for shortstop Khalil Greene. From there, he developed into one of the game's more unique and reliable relievers, a sinker-slider specialist who could close games without the help of high-level velocity. Over nine seasons with the Padres, A's and Astros, Gregerson owns a 3.02 ERA and averaged 69 appearances per season.

Now Molina will be his catcher.

The question is: in what inning?

Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak named Gregerson the closer earlier this winter, and manager Mike Matheny reiterated that distinction this week. But the club spent the winter adding arms all around him, and officials haven't shied away from the fact that they consider late-innings duties something of an open competition.

Video: Mozeliak on bullpen, Gregerson closing in 2018

Gregerson said the chance to close wasn't discussed in contract negotiations with St. Louis, and had little to do with his desire to sign with the club. Though the Cardinals value his experience in the ninth inning, Gregerson hasn't closed games regularly since 2016, and full-time since '15.

"Honestly, one of the biggest factors was that I was looking to get closer to home in Chicago," said Gregerson, who grew up on the north side of the city. "I haven't really been a closer for an extended period of time. It's not like I'm an established closer where that's the exact job I'm looking for. I'm looking to pitch, fill in, help out, and make sure this team keeps winning."

• Cards relievers set to jockey for late-inning roles

Gregerson enjoyed a lot of winning last season, starting the season with the World Baseball Classic champion Team USA and ending it in a dog pile with the Astros at Dodger Stadium.

"A crazy year," he called it.

But it was also a year in which Gregerson posted a career-worst ERA (4.57), despite little change in his strikeout and walk rates. He pitched through a broken hamate bone in his glove hand suffered in September, but was used just sporadically down the stretch.

"I think you have to take the numbers into account," Gregerson said. "The ERA was personally a disappointment for me. I think if you look at the peripheral numbers and take out a few games -- three games in particular, where things got away from me -- and I had a pretty decent, normal year."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com.

St. Louis Cardinals, Luke Gregerson