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Pirates notebook: Grilli out, Melancon in as Pirates closer

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, June 20, 2014, 2:33 p.m.

CHICAGO — If losing the closer's job rattled Pirates reliever Jason Grilli, he did not show it.

During a short meeting before Friday's game against the Chicago Cubs, manager Clint Hurdle told Grilli he's being replaced by Mark Melancon.

Hurdle later indicated the switch is only temporary until Grilli can work out of his slump.

“I've walked through fire before,” said Grilli, 37, who has bounced back from setbacks and surgeries throughout his career. “This is nothing. I'll get through it.”

Melancon, who had 16 saves last year while Grilli was injured, will get the bulk of the save chances. Left-hander Tony Watson will work the ninth inning on days when Melancon needs a breather.

“We're very confident in what Mark can do (as the closer),” Hurdle said.

Hurdle did not define Grilli's new role.

“We're going to give him the opportunity to get a few outings in ... I don't even want to use the word ‘leverage' situations,” Hurdle said. “We'll use him when we're behind.”

Grilli worked the eighth inning Friday with the Pirates trailing 6-3. He got a pair of strikeouts, then gave up a walk and a single. Luis Valbuena flied out to end the inning.

Grilli's demotion came one day after he served up a game-tying solo homer to Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco.

It was Grilli's fourth blown save in 20 appearances this season. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.34 ERA.

Last year, his first as a full-time closer, Grilli had 33 saves and two blown saves in 54 outings.

“I'm going to work through it,” Grilli said. “I'm in a little bit of a slump, but nothing that I can't overcome. So, I'm not worried about it.”

Grilli has allowed four home runs, equaling his total from last season. According to Hurdle, two of the homers came on fastballs and two (including Mesoraco's shot) were on sliders.

“Jason's always been a fastball guy,” Hurdle said. “The breaking ball makes his fastball a little quicker and a little better. He's one of the veteran guys in the league who can use that fastball up top. Right now, it's just not working.”

Grilli said he is healthy, a claim supported by his stable fastball velocity. However, he's used his fastball less often this season.

According to Fangraphs, Grilli has thrown the fastball 63.1 percent of the time, his lowest rate since 2011 when he joined the Pirates.

Pitching coach Ray Searage said he believes Grilli is throwing his fastball with as much conviction as ever. The problem, Searage said, is mechanical.

“It's about executing pitches,” Searage said. “He's doing something that's preventing him from getting consistency with his breaking ball. It's like anyone else going through a slump. You know he can pitch, so we're going to help him get through this.”

Grilli is nearing the end of a two-year, $6.75 million contract.

Teke out for season

Kent Tekulve, the Pirates' closer for their 1979 World Series championship, will miss the rest of this baseball season as Root Sports' in-studio commentator for “personal” reasons, he said Friday night. He said Root has told him the job will be his again once he returns, and he expects to do so.

Ken Macha, the former major league player and manager out of Monroeville, will fill in for Tekulve. He began with Friday's Pirates-Cubs broadcast.

Planet of the aches

Second baseman Neil Walker (appendectomy) took four at-bats, two from each side of the plate, against live pitching in a simulated game Friday in Bradenton, Fla. Walker also fielded ground balls, ran the bases and took batting practice. He's on track to come off the disabled list Tuesday. ... Left-hander Francisco Liriano (left oblique strain) played catch again Friday and said his sore side feels better. He said there is no timetable for his return.

Minor matters

Five Altoona players — outfielder Keon Broxton, third baseman Jarek Cunningham, infielder Gift Ngoepe, utilityman Andy Vasquez and left-hander Yao-Hsun Yang — were given three-game suspensions by the Double-A Eastern League. The players were involved in an on-field brawl Wednesday during a game against New Hampshire.

The players will not have to serve their suspensions at the same time. Cunningham, Ngoepe and Yang went on the suspended list Friday after the completion of a suspended game in Portland. Also, Altoona placed first baseman Stetson Allie on the disabled list because of a concussion.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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