Gagne getting into groove at own pace

Gagne getting into groove at own pace

PHOENIX -- Eric Gagne knows his role. He finds comfort in that.

"It's always easier on you when you know you have a place on the team," Gagne said. "That's why it's harder when you're a young guy. You're really trying to work and impress, and you've got to come into Spring Training ready to go, 100 percent."

He doesn't have to worry about such things, Brewers manager Ned Yost said.

Gagne, who split the 2007 season between the Rangers and the Red Sox, can work into his groove at a pace of his own. Nobody's looking at his outings here and dissecting them under a microscope. His job is to close ballgames for the Brewers -- but ballgames that matter, not Cactus League games.

He's been using those games to prep himself for the real thing -- one inning at a time.

"It's getting there," Gagne said. "I'm feeling pretty good, you know. I'm working on my fastball right now."

His objective as he prepares for Opening Day is simple: keep throwing his hard stuff and mixing in a changeup once in a while.

Then he amended it just a tad.

"As long as I don't get hurt," he said, smiling, "that's my objective."

Gagne, 32, came into camp feeling good, something he's not experienced in the past three seasons. He's been battling a string of injuries, and the injuries have been winning.

The once-dominant closer has had to rebuild the fear factor that had been as much a part of his pitching repertoire as anything else. Gagne's gone from 52 saves in 2002 to 16 last season.

With the Brewers, Gagne will have a chance to do a lot better than 16 saves this season, if he's anything close to the Gagne of yesteryear. He might be, too. He still has work ahead of him, though.

"Right now, I'm working on my fastball, just the location, and really getting my body under control," he said.

Justice B. Hill is a senior reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.