The recent news on injured Pittsburgh Pirates late-inning reliever Jason Grilli was as good as could be expected, as he was diagnosed with a forearm strain by Dr. James Andrews on Friday. Grilli left Monday’s win over the Nationals with forearm discomfort, which often indicates structural damage in the elbow.
With the surgery bullet dodged, the Pirates can expect to have Grilli on a rehab throwing program in about two weeks, assuming his right forearm responds to treatment and rest. Optimistic projections have the Bucs’ bullpen anchor returning at some point in early September.
However, even if everything goes according to plan, that leaves at least a five-week span for the Pirates to be without their ninth-inning hammer. With Pittsburgh pursuing a playoff berth, they will need to find someone to handle those high-leverage spots.
Mark Melancon has been bumped from his previous eighth-inning role to the ninth, and although his strikeout rate isn’t anywhere close to Grilli’s, his results this season (0.93 ERA, 0.81 WHIP in 48 1/3 innings) should translate well to any spot in the game.
Rookie lefty Justin Wilson has also impressed in his first extended MLB stint (2.18 ERA, 1.01 WHIP in 53 2/3 innings); his fastball-slider combination has played well in high-leverage spots and figures to continue to do so.
Beyond those two, Vin Mazzaro, Tony Watson and Bryan Morris have also enjoyed varying measures of success, but Watson is the most-tenured of the trio at three MLB seasons. With that inexperience in mind, it’s not surprising the Pirates were among the teams taking a look at rehabbing former Giants closer Brian Wilson earlier this week.
As much as some baseball fans may be skeptical at the thought, the pressure of a late-season pennant chase can have an effect on players who haven’t been there before. The Pirates will have many nervous innings ahead, so adding someone like Brian Wilson – who pitched countless big games for San Francisco – can be quite valuable if he’s healthy and throwing well.
At any rate, the Grilli prognosis has changed the Pirates’ priorities as the next week’s trade deadline approaches. While they’d still love to add another competent hitter or two, shoring up the bullpen could be just as important in solidifying their playoff hopes.