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Cubs pick Gregg to fill closer role

New York Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner dives for a ball during a game earlier this month at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla.

New York Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner dives for a ball during a game earlier this month at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla.

The Chicago Cubs chose Kevin Gregg to be their closer, and the New York Yankees will give Brett Gardner his shot in center field.

Acquired by Chicago in an offseason trade with Florida, Gregg beat out Carlos Marmol, the Cubs’ top setup man last year. They both spent spring training vying to replace All-Star closer Kerry Wood, who signed with Cleveland.

“Gregg came in here and hasn’t given up a run all spring,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Sunday in Mesa. “I think leaving spring training, we’re a better team the way we’ve put this thing together.”

The 30-year-old Gregg saved 29 games for the Marlins last season. The right-hander also had 32 saves in 2007 and has 62 for his career, which began with the Angels.

“That’s where I’m comfortable. That’s what I’ve done for the last couple of years,” Gregg said. “I’m excited about getting out there in a new year.”

Marmol, who also pitched for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in spring training. He has hit five batters with pitches.

“We said we’d let both pitchers compete here in the spring, and they both pitched well,” Piniella said. “I’m fortunate that I have two pitchers here that I have confidence in that can do that job.”

Marmol returns to his role of setup man to begin the season.

“Disappointed, yeah,” he said. “I can’t control this.”

The fleet-footed Gardner grabbed the Yankees’ center field job, beating out Melky Cabrera this spring by showing improvement at the plate.

“Both of them played great,” manager Joe Girardi said in Tampa, Fla. “Gardie finished up strong and had a great camp.

“Right now I think Gardie has a little bit of the edge. He brings a little more speed to the lineup.”

Gardner batted .228 over 42 games in 2008, but was successful on 13 of 14 stolen-base attempts. He is hitting .385 with five steals in 22 spring training games.

The Yankees plan to have Cabrera on the regular-season roster in a backup role.

“Melky had a tough year last year, but came into camp, was ready to go and played very well,” Girardi said. “Melky is going to have a lot of important things to do for us. He’s a switch-hitter, can put him anywhere in the outfield. He can run.”

Cabrera lost his starting spot in center last season with a slump that got him demoted to the minors for 15 games. He is hitting .340 in 21 games this spring.

In other news:

• Detroit placed left-hander Dontrelle Willis on the 15-day disabled list with an anxiety disorder and put oft-injured reliever Joel Zumaya on the DL, retroactive to March 27, with a sore right shoulder.

Willis said he has been feeling well on and off the mound. General manager Dave Dombrowski said he could not provide details about Willis’ medical condition or treatment because of privacy regulations.

• Randy Johnson, preparing for his first season with San Francisco, threw 80 pitches in a minor league camp game. He gave up seven hits and two runs in his final Arizona appearance.

The Big Unit, five wins shy of 300, was 1-2 with a 2.38 ERA in four spring training starts. He faced minor leaguers twice and missed one start because of biceps tenderness.

Johnson will make his last exhibition start Thursday against Oakland in the Bay Area series before pitching in the Giants’ second regular-season game April 8 against Milwaukee.

• San Diego right-hander Cha Seung Baek strained a flexor muscle in his forearm in the fourth inning of his start against the Dodgers and came out a couple of hitters later.

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