Jim Johnson, not Kevin Gregg, likely to be Orioles’ closer

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Earlier this offseason there was some talk about the Orioles possibly moving Jim Johnson into the rotation, but he now seems destined to remain in the bullpen and Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com expects Johnson to be the Opening Day closer.

That could still change if the Orioles acquire a veteran closer, but they whiffed on Huston Street and haven’t been linked to many free agents, leaving Johnson as the obvious in-house option after he converted seven straight save chances in September.

Johnson logged 91 innings in a setup role last season, so moving to closer might actually make him slightly less valuable for the Orioles if they limit him to the role’s usual 60-70 innings.

Another option is Kevin Gregg, who has plenty of closing experience and 144 career saves, but he was a mess in 2011 while saving 22 games and has long been a prime example of save totals being a misleading indicator of reliever ability.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.