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Pirates notebook: Grilli closer to regaining 9th

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli celebrates with catcher Russell Martin after defeating the Nationals on Friday, May 23, 2014, at PNC Park.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 7:54 p.m.

NEW YORK — Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is not ready to place Jason Grilli back in the closer's role, but Hurdle indicated Tuesday that Grilli is close to returning to ninth-inning duties.

Grilli recorded a save in his first appearance off the disabled list Friday against the Washington Nationals, but that was not by design. It was because of an exhausted bullpen.

“I think we'll use our eyes during the next opportunity he gets,” Hurdle said. “He's not going to be far away, but I would like to get him out there another time before we make any kind of statement or get the bullpen together and proclaim roles. I do like my bullpen best with Grilli closing.”

While the Pirates' bullpen has blown an MLB-high 11 saves — the Mets were tied for second with nine entering play Tuesday — the Pirates bullpen ranks fifth in baseball with a 2.81 ERA, which is slightly lower than their bullpen ERA last season (2.89).

Grilli came on to pitch the eighth inning Tuesday. He allowed one hit and struck out the side. His fastball was between 92-94 mph, in line with his normal velocity.

“I think our bullpen is moving toward as good a place as it's been all year,” Hurdle said.

Behind the curtain

Visiting major league staffs have been invited to visit MLB's instant replay headquarters in New York when passing through the city. Hurdle was unable to visit this week, but he sent several members of his coaching staff with questions.

“You don't get an explanation (after reviews) you get a call. So we just earmarked a handful of plays we had questions about,” Hurdle said. “It was fact-finding. It was also understanding definitions.”

The Pirates had a question from their Monday game at Citi Field, when Mets baserunner Juan Lagares initially was ruled out at home. The play was overturned when it was ruled Pirates catcher Russell Martin illegally blocked the plate.

“We found out how you are going to have to make the play,” Hurdle said “The initial set up, if (Martin) could have set up to one side of the plate and then the play took him where it had taken him we could have gotten the call.

“Where the throw was, where the ball was, heat of the moment ... guys have been doing it so many years — we are almost having to reboot some computers, mentally, on those spontaneous plays.”

Super (utility)man

Josh Harrison has made a name for himself in recent weeks in right field, but Tuesday he started at third base in place of Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez is one of two Pirates, along with Neil Walker, who have played in all 50 games. Harrison's versatility is key to securing future playing time with top prospect Gregory Polanco expected to arrive soon from Triple-A Indianapolis to play right field.

Why Vin?

Hurdle was asked Tuesday about the club's decision to designate reliever Vin Mazzaro for assignment to clear a roster spot for right-handed starter Brandon Cumpton when fellow reliever Jared Hughes had options remaining. “He was pitching better,” Hurdle said. “(Mazzaro) wasn't as sharp.”

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

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