Luke Gregerson rejoins Cardinals after a decade away

JUPITER, Fla. — Newly re-acquired St. Louis Cardinals closer Luke Gregerson sat on a stool in front of his spring training locker reflecting on his first major league spring training experience more than a decade ago.

He didn't record a save. He didn't even throw a pitch.

As a minor league call-up for the day, Cardinals coaches summoned Gregerson from the bullpen in the ninth inning to pinch-run for catcher Yadier Molina.

"The ball got hit, I ran halfway to third, game was over. I was like, What's going on?" Gregerson said.

For the 33-year-old Gregerson, who reported with Cardinals pitchers and catchers on Tuesday, the location is familiar but the surroundings are a little different.

Tuesday marked the first time Gregerson entered the Cardinals' major league clubhouse since he was a member of the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals, who use Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium as their home ballpark in Florida State League play once the big league club heads north.

St. Louis traded the right-hander, then still a minor leaguer, to San Diego in 2009 to complete the previous year's deal for shortstop Khalil Greene.

A nine-year major leaguer, Gregerson spent the past three seasons in Houston, with 2017 being the most memorable.

It began with Gregerson saving three games for United States in the World Baseball Classic and ended with five scoreless playoff outings for the Astros. Gregerson and third baseman Alex Bregman became the only two Americans ever to win the WBC and the World Series in the same year.

"It was special, it was fun, it was exhausting, it was a mental run," said Gregerson. "At the end of it, that's why you go through those struggles. That's why you go through the mental stress. That's why you go through the physical stress, to reach that ultimate spot. So it was worth every second of it and I wouldn't change anything."

Having released the injured Trevor Rosenthal and with Seung-Hwan Oh a free agent, the Cardinals signed Gregerson to help cement the back end of their bullpen. Gregerson insists he wasn't looking for a closer role, and that the club didn't guarantee him the final three outs as part of the wooing process, but he enters the spring expecting to start the season as the closer.

"Until they tell me otherwise, that's kind of what I've been hearing," said Gregerson, who signed a two-year, $11 million contract with a team option for a third year.

The right-handed Gregerson is not the prototypical hard-throwing closer. His fastball reaches the mid-90s, and when successful he mixes sinkers and sliders to induce weak contact.

He saved 47 games for the Astros over the past three seasons, but only one of those saves came last year.

The back end of the bullpen remains one of the Cardinals' biggest concerns this spring. Brett Cecil, Sam Tuivailala, Tyler Lyons and Matt Bowman — all members of the Cardinals pen last season — are in the mix for the final innings and could even close occasionally.

St. Louis could also groom former top prospect Alex Reyes for the closer role. The Cardinals are expected to bring the 23-year-old Reyes, who's coming off Tommy John surgery, along slowly this season. That means he could begin the season in the pen. Reyes arrived in camp early and has already thrown several bullpen sessions.

And more bullpen help could be on the way. St. Louis is also expected to formally introduce veteran free agent signee Bud Norris, most recently of the Los Angeles Angels, on Wednesday. Mainly a starter throughout his career, Norris spent most of last season in the Angels bullpen, recording 19 saves.

Norris and the Cardinals reached an agreement on Monday. He was expected to undergo a physical on Tuesday which, if successful, would finalize the deal. The Cardinals have yet to detail how they intend to use Norris.

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