For the better part of the past two seasons, whether it be in the eighth or ninth inning, current Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer Jason Grilli has been nothing short of automatic.
That hasn’t been the case so far during the early going of the 2014 season as Grilli has been anything but a sure thing, leading many to wonder if he should be removed as the Pirates closer.
Brewers’ slugger Ryan Braun touched up Grilli on back-to-back night’s with homers as Grilli blew two save opportunities in consecutive days.
Grilli has blown three of seven save opportunities this season. He converted his first 25 save opportunities last season and blew only two saves all last year.
Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle seems committed to Grilli though.
“It is the first time in two years-plus that he’s had back-to-back bad marks,” Hurdle said (via the Associated Press). “This is going to show where everybody is with Grilli. Do his teammates and fans jump off the boat or not?”
Many forget that Grilli is no spring chicken. Even though he has been in a Pirates uniform for just over three seasons, at 37 years old he has a lot of mileage on him.
His early season 4.50 ERA is almost two runs more than his career ERA as a Pirate and his 1.375 WHIP is also his highest mark since joining the Pirates back in 2011. Even the saves he has converted haven’t come easy.
The opposition is hitting .241 vs. Grilli this season, also his worst mark as a Pirate.
The Pirates bullpen is still a very good one, currently ninth in baseball with a 2.91 ERA, but they have allowed seven homers already, one of the top marks in baseball, with most of those coming from the back end of the bullpen.
However if not Grilli in the ninth inning then who?
I’m not totally convinced that person should be Mark Melancon.
After an outstanding first four months of the 2013 season that saw him make the National League All-Star team, Melancon hasn’t been the same pitcher. The opposition hit .250 off him last August and a whopping .333 in September. This season he has been better early on, holding opponents to a .171 batting average, second best to only Tony Watson in the Pirates pen, but needless to say Melancon has been shaky since last August.
At the end of the day though I feel Hurdle still has to give the ball to Grilli and ride this thing out for the time being.
Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the opposition and that’s the case with Braun. One of the game’s best hitters simply made Grilli pay for two mistakes.
Unfortunately those mistakes cost the Pirates wins.
However the Pirates are in a position that they haven’t been in over two season and that is having question marks at the backend of the bullpen.
Whether it be the combination of Grilli and Joel Hanrahan or the Melancon-Grilli combination, the backend of the pen used to be one of the Bucs’ biggest strengths.
Now it is filled with question marks.
A big reason the Pirates have had success the past couple of seasons is if they held a lead after seven innings, the game was usually over.
That hasn’t been the case so far this season.
For the Pirates to get back on track, they have to get Grilli back on track.
He still has to be the guy that gets the ball in the ninth inning.
It’s up to him to turn the late innings back into one of the Pirates biggest strengths.