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Grilli 'couldn't be happier' to be back with Pirates

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 9:22 p.m.
The Pirates Jason Grilli speaks to the media at PNC Park Dec. 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

After eight organizations, 14 professional seasons and several potholes and detours along the way, Jason Grilli's long journey took him back to where he said he always wanted to be.

“I'm pretty ecstatic,” the 36-year-old right-hander said Wednesday at PNC Park after the Pirates officially announced his return to the club.

No financial terms were revealed, but the Tribune-Review reported Monday his two-year deal is worth $6.75 million. It was a bonanza for a free agent relief pitcher who several times has been traded, sold and released, recovered from two significant elbow injuries and came back from a knee injury that nearly ended his career and forced him to miss the 2010 season.

Grilli last year made $1.1 million, his biggest salary by far until now. At least eight teams reportedly were interested.

“My decision was pretty easy when it came down to the positives and negatives,” an ebullient Grilli told reporters with his parents, Steve, a former big league pitcher, and Kathy looking on. “The city itself, how it's welcomed me. The fans especially.

“I conceded money for the joys of what this area brings. I know what's going on here. I know what matters to me. This was just the right fit for me. The comfort of knowing where I'm gonna be. The mound ... I couldn't be happier being a Pirate again.”

Grilli, taken by the Giants with the fourth overall pick in 1997, emerged as a quality reliever and fan favorite after joining the Pirates midway through the 2011 season and going 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 28 games. Last season, as the main set-up man, Grilli went 1-6 with a 2.91 ERA in 58 23 innings. He struggled in September as the Pirates continued to fade, but his 32 holds were fourth in the majors and second in the National League.

With trade rumors continuing to swirl around closer Joel Hanrahan — the Dodgers were mentioned Wednesday as the latest possibility — Grilli figures to assume the role if Hanrahan is dealt.

“I've been through enough in my career that I welcome any opportunity,” he said. “I've done everything in the middle, and now I'm doing it at the end. I've (closed) a few times.”

Considered one of the clubhouse leaders, Grilli knows something about diplomacy. He added, “I'm not trying to push Hanrahan (out). I've talked to Hanny, and that's something I can't control. I know we're a pretty good tandem, and I'd hate to lose a guy that I know. Arguably, we're a couple of the best bullpen guys you can have out there. I hope we can do that.”

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said of Hanrahan and Grilli, “They were a dynamic pair at the back end of the bullpen last year, and that's our best team, absolutely. Jason and I were open with each other during the process, option one, option two, option three, option 97 in terms of how it could play out.

“(Grilli) is prepared to take the ball in meaningful situations late in the game ... and we fully believe that whether it's with Joel or without Joel, Jason's gonna be an important part of the late-inning games we're supposed to close out.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bcohn@tribweb.com or 412-320-7810.

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