Grilli blows save as Pirates waste historic long-ball night
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wants Jason Grilli back in the closer role. But that plan remains on hold after Friday's 5-4 loss to the Cubs.
Grilli had been so good prior to his forearm injury in July perhaps the game's best closer. He entered Friday with just one blown save, a blemish occurring June 19 in Cincinnati when he allowed a solo home run to Jay Bruce.
But on Friday, Anthony Rizzo smashed a hanging Grilli slider out of PNC Park for a two-run home run in the seventh, giving Chicago the lead for good and Grilli his second blown save.
It marked the second time Grilli pitched with the lead in the seventh or eighth inning since returning from the disabled list. It was the next benchmark Hurdle wanted Grilli to clear before considering him again for end-game duties.
Grilli's velocity was down, as it had been in his previous three outings, sitting at 91 mph. The fastball averaged 93.5 mph prior to the injury. While his slider had its moments — he struck out Junior Lake and Starlin Castro with the pitch to begin the seventh — it lacked consistency. He missed with a slider on a borderline pitch to walk Luis Valbuena, and Rizzo followed by smashing a slider into the Allegheny River.
Hurdle allowed the right-handed Grilli to pitch to Rizzo despite Rizzo's .178 batting average against lefties.
“It's command,” Hurdle said of what Grilli must improve. “You saw him very effective with the first two hitters. It's just continuing to work to finish innings. There's no safety net at this level. We believe in him. We're going to keep giving him the ball when it makes sense. You can't let him sit too long if you want him to get better.”
After the game, Grilli sat quietly with his head down at his locker. He declined to speak with reporters.
“Not talking today,” Grill said.
Rizzo's home run was the decisive shot on a historic night of home runs for the Pirates.
In the fourth, Pedro Alvarez hit a ball off the right-center wall that ricocheted away from Cubs center fielder Ryan Sweeney for an inside-the-park home run. It was Alvarez's NL-best 33rd home run.
Russell Martin smashed the next pitch, a 92 mph fastball, over the left-field wall.
Two pitches later, Sweeney watched a Garrett Jones home run land halfway up the right-center field seats to even the score at 3-3.
It was the first time the Pirates hit three consecutive home runs since Jason Kendall, Brian Giles and Reggie Sanders went back to back to back on Aug. 20, 2003, in St. Louis. It marked just the ninth time in club history three consecutive Pirates homered and the first time at home since July 6, 1955 vs. Brooklyn at Forbes Field.
The home runs took starter Charlie Morton off the hook for a loss.
Morton made his first start since injuring his left foot, his landing foot, Sunday against St. Louis when he allowed five runs over 1 2⁄3 innings. Morton was not his typical groundball-inducing self Friday, allowing more flyouts (5) than groundouts (4). He allowed three runs over five innings.
“The sinker came and went,” Hurdle said. “The ball wasn't on the ground with the consistency we've seen in the past.”
Morton's sinking two-seamer too often was left elevated, including on Brian Bogusevic's two-run homer that gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead in the fourth. He also did not have his changeup against a Cubs lineup loaded with five left-handed bats.