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Pirates notebook: Hurdle standing behind Grilli

| Sunday, April 20, 2014, 5:48 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli walks back to the mound after allowing a game-tying homer to the Brewers' Ryan Braun in the ninth inning Sunday, April 20, 2014, at PNC Park.

On Saturday in the ninth inning, Pirates closer Jason Grilli elevated a fastball Ryan Braun smashed for a home run resulting in a blown save. On Sunday, Grilli left a slider up to Braun in the ninth inning, which Braun hit into the left-field seats for a game-tying homer and Grilli's second blown save in as many days.

Grilli didn't blow his first save until June 19 last season, and had only two blown saves in all of 2013.

While Grilli's fastball velocity of 93.4 mph is equal to his velocity of last season, his walks are up from 2.3 per nine innings to 5.1 per nine, and Grilli has made critical location mistakes.

Manager Clint Hurdle stuck up for his closer after the Sunday loss.

“We wanted to give him the ball back as quickly as possible to close a game,” Hurdle said. “It is the first time in two years plus he had back-to-back bad marks. That's going to show where everyone else is with Grilli. You jump off Grilli's boat? Do his teammates, fans, do I? Or do you stick with him?”

The Pirates' struggles in general on the mound have often been qualified this season by noting it is early, or that April represents a small-sample size, but at what point does Hurdle become concerned?

“Yeah, we do talk a lot about small sample sizes,” Hurdle said. “I've never said it's early and I won't say it's early. Other people can say it's early. ... Our overall execution has got to be better for us to play the kind of ball we're capable of playing. We've got a lot of work to do.”

Wandy still in rotation

Hurdle said Sunday that Wandy Rodriguez is still a member of the starting rotation. Rodriguez is scheduled to make his next start on Thursday against the Reds. The veteran lefty has struggled mightily, posting a 7.65 ERA and a 25 percent home run-to-fly ball ratio to date.

Hurdle does not know if the velocity will return. Rodriguez missed the last four months of 2013 with an elbow injury and his fastball velocity is down two mph in 2013, averaging just 87.9 mph.

“It's uncharted territory for me as it is for him. He didn't have the surgery, sometimes you have the surgery, you get mph. He didn't have the surgery,” Hurdle said. “Time will tell. Right now it is sitting on where it's sitting.”

Said Pirates GM Neal Huntington: “We saw a little bit crisper stuff in spring training. He's pitched in some miserable conditions. And they haven't missed his mistakes. It's four starts. We've seen some good signs. We've seen some signs that we need to help him more. ... And it's not just about velocity, it's as much about deception and location.”

Rodriguez' fastball is generating just 3.3 percent swings and misses this season, a drop from his 6 percent rate last season. Hurdle believes the lack of life on his fastball is affecting his staple curveball.

“The fastball sets up the curveball,” Hurdle said. “The curveball has been in play at times but the overall consistency. … he's not happy with it. We just need to continue to work. I saw some good ones, but not enough good ones. Not enough consistency.”

Injuries on the farm

In addition to Jameson Taillon's season-ending injury, a couple of other Pirates' pitching prospects in Tyler Glasnow (stiff back) and Luis Heredia (shoulder soreness) are working through injuries.

“Tyler (Glasnow) is basically getting stretched out. He is going through his spring training right now. He is throwing the ball well and is healthy,” Huntington said. “With (Heredia) we are working through the inflammation in that shoulder. He has not yet started a throwing program.”

Outfielder prospect Austin Meadows is still dealing with a hamstring injury.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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