Closer Grilli, relievers are piling up the outings for Pirates this season
NEW YORK — With the score tied in the eighth inning Thursday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sent out setup man Mark Melancon against the heart of the New York Mets' lineup. In the ninth, with the score still knotted, Hurdle used closer Jason Grilli.
Melancon got through his outing unscathed. Grilli did not, allowing a walkoff single that sent the Mets to a 3-2 victory.
To some, it was surprising to see Melancon and Grilli take the mound. Has Hurdle recanted his vow to never use his late-inning relievers unless a victory was in hand?
“Our guys were rested,” Hurdle said. “We wanted to take that shot.”
In other words, don't get used to it.
Since 1990, only two Pirates relievers have appeared in more than 79 games. Salomon Torres did it in 2006 (94 games) and 2004 (84 games); Matt Capps did it in 2004 (85 games).
Grilli is a 36-year-old first-time closer. He's pitched in 18 of the first 37 games this season, which puts him on track to appear in 78 games — 14 more than his career-high, which he reached last year.
Melancon, 28, is on pace to pitch in 83 games this year. Two seasons ago, he had 71 outings as the Houston Astros' closer.
“You can't keep running them out there and expect them to last all season,” MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac said. “Most fans don't understand that. If you're Hurdle, you have to look at the big picture. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice maybe losing a game for the betterment of your go-to guys in the bullpen.”
Plesac spent two of his 18 big league seasons as a reliever with the Pirates. In 1996, he led the team with 73 appearances.
When the Pirates acquire a reliever, one of the first things Hurdle does is explain that pitcher's role and how often he will be used.
“I'm not going to pitch anyone three days in a row unless they throw less than 30 (total) pitches,” Hurdle said. “That second day, you're going to get their absolute best effort. They're not going to try to (hold back) because you might use them tomorrow as well.”
Hurdle also monitors how often a reliever warms up in a game and how many days in a row he gets ready, even if he doesn't get in the game.
“If they get hot three times in a night and we don't pitch them, shame on me, but it counts as a game and I've got to wear that,” Hurdle said. “We haven't violated that in my two-plus years here.”
Melancon and Grilli are power pitchers, which Plesac said is another reason to lighten their early-season workload.
“They live off their fastball and hard breaking balls,” Plesac said. “You can get away with it, if you're Kent Tekulve — you're throwing from down under, you're a sinkerballer or a trick-pitch pitcher.
“But, for Grilli and Melancon, their game is dictated by their fastball. If they don't have a good fastball, it's going to be hard for them to survive. You just can't flip a switch in the middle of the season and say, ‘Hey, change the style you've thrown with your entire career if you're tired in August. Start being a sinker-slider pitcher.'”
Grilli's age is a good news-bad news situation. He doesn't have as much mileage on his arm as many relievers his age, but that's only because he missed significant time with injuries. So, who knows how many bullets he has to fire?
One advantage Grilli has that he didn't have earlier in his career is his closer status.
“If there's one guy in the bullpen who gets taken care of, it's the closer,” Plesac said. “He's not going to (warm) up two or three times without getting in a game. He knows that if they're down a couple of runs, he's not going to pitch unless he's had a couple of days off. He's getting special treatment, and rightly so.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- No certainty for Pirates’ call-up veterans
- Record-holding female motorcyclist to speak at Lincoln Highway event
- Rossi: Continuing legend of Pirate Ray
- RB Williams believes he’s making seamless transition to Steelers
- Pitt basketball team starting to get injured players back
- White lion Prince dies at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
- LaBar: Sting making history fighting for WWE title
- Brashear cornerback Coleman picks Pitt
- Vintage drive-in theaters’ prices, upgrades still draw in Western Pa.
- Alaska-bound, Obama makes waves by renaming Mount McKinley
- Alpha Natural Resources executive resigns amid restructuring