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Gregerson returns with eyes on closing

Former Cards Draft pick looking to help stabilize late innings
Special to MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the first time since Spring Training of his rookie year in 2009, Cardinals fans saw right-handed reliever Luke Gregerson pitch for the St. Louis organization during Saturday's 9-2 loss against the Braves at Champion Stadium. He said he remembered striking out Marcus Giles at Roger Dean Stadium the last time he was part of the club.

On March 23, 2009, the Cardinals sent Gregerson to the Padres as the player-to-be-named to complete the trade of reliever Mark Worrell for shortstop Khalil Greene. The Cardinals brought Gregerson, their 28th-round pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, full-circle with a two-year, $10 million contract Dec. 14. He said waiting until March 3 for his first outing was by design.

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the first time since Spring Training of his rookie year in 2009, Cardinals fans saw right-handed reliever Luke Gregerson pitch for the St. Louis organization during Saturday's 9-2 loss against the Braves at Champion Stadium. He said he remembered striking out Marcus Giles at Roger Dean Stadium the last time he was part of the club.

On March 23, 2009, the Cardinals sent Gregerson to the Padres as the player-to-be-named to complete the trade of reliever Mark Worrell for shortstop Khalil Greene. The Cardinals brought Gregerson, their 28th-round pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, full-circle with a two-year, $10 million contract Dec. 14. He said waiting until March 3 for his first outing was by design.

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"For a reliever, I think if you can get anywhere between six and nine [Spring Training appearances], I think it's fine," Gregerson said. "I've thrown five or six bullpens leading up to this. It was something we had planned because I had to get ready early last year for the [World Baseball Classic] and played all the way through the World Series. It was just a long year."

In his first Spring Training appearance for St. Louis in almost nine years, Gregerson threw a perfect fifth inning to help his case as front-runner for the closer role. He struck out Dansby Swanson and Johan Camargo on six pitches, and then induced a groundout from Freddie Freeman on a close play by third baseman Jedd Gyorko.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I think right now the biggest thing for me is just movement, especially being a power pitcher," Gregerson said. "I like to make sure the ball's moving, and give the hitters something to think about."

Gregerson said his two-seam fastball in particular moved as well as he could have wanted -- better than any point since last spring. Although the strikeouts were nice, he said he would have taken quick groundouts all the same. Either way, manager Mike Matheny certainly liked what he saw from Gregerson.

"He had the kind of at-bats you hope, the mentality," Matheny said. "Swing-and-misses are great to see, but the awkward swings that guys take on pitches that are strikes show you the late movement, the break that looks different."

Martinez and Reyes return
Starter Carlos Martinez returned to the club Saturday, after Matheny excused him from starting Friday. Martinez attended to what Matheny called an unspecified personal matter, and instead threw three innings of a simulated game Friday against Minor League hitters in Jupiter, Fla.

The Cardinals have scheduled their top prospect according to MLB Pipeline, right-hander Alex Reyes, to throw another live batting practice session Sunday. Reyes continues to work toward a return from Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals hope to have him rejoin the Major League club by May 1.

Out in left field
Marcell Ozuna said he planned to play left field Sunday, which would be his first field appearance this spring. Ozuna has been the Cardinals' designated hitter five times this spring.

Video: MIN@STL: Ozuna crushes a solo homer to left field

Fourth outfielder candidate and No. 4 prospect Tyler O'Neill is suffering from a strained oblique, Matheny said. The injury occurred in a batting cage, holding him out of game action since Monday. O'Neill is 2-for- 9 with a walk and six strikeouts this spring. After St. Louis acquired him from Seattle, he hit .253 with a .304 on-base percentage, and a .548 slugging percentage in 37 games for Triple-A Memphis.

Up next
The Cardinals return to Jupiter, Fla., to host the Astros at 12:05 p.m. CT Sunday at Roger Dean Stadium. Right-hander Michael Wacha will make his second start this spring for St. Louis. Watch live on MLB.TV or MLB Network.

Zak Kerr is a contributor to MLB.com.

St. Louis Cardinals, Luke Gregerson