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Reliever Grilli signs to boost Bucs' bullpen

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Friday, July 22, 2011

When he saw a familiar face in the stands Sunday in Syracuse, N.Y., reliever Jason Grilli instantly knew he had a chance to get back to the major leagues.

Grilli recognized Marc DelPiano because they both once worked for the Florida Marlins. DelPiano, now a special assistant to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, walked up to Grilli and smiled.

"Hey, any chance you're pitching tonight?" DelPiano asked.

After talking awhile with DelPiano, Grilli, a right-hander with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Philadelphia Phillies' Triple-A club, went straight to his pitching coach.

"Make sure you give me an inning tonight," Grilli said. "There's a scout here to see me."

The IronPigs lost, 8-4, to Syracuse. Grilli tossed the ninth, gave up one hit and posted a strikeout. It was a meaningless inning — to everyone except Grilli. There was an escape clause in his minor-league contract that he could activate if the Phillies didn't promote him and another club offered a big-league deal.

"I was getting pretty discouraged," Grilli said. "But I knew things would work out if I kept pitching well."

DelPiano liked what he saw, and the Pirates made an offer.

Seventy-two hours later, Grilli was in Pittsburgh. He passed a physical Thursday and signed a contract with the Pirates.

Grilli will be in uniform Friday for the start of a crucial three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. While talking on his cell phone Thursday, Grilli clearly was excited.

"It's a beautiful situation for me," he said. "I've only been here a day and a half, but I can feel this city coming alive for baseball. I can't wait to get started. I'll probably be the first guy in the clubhouse (Friday)."

Grilli, 34, was 4-1 with three saves and a 1.93 ERA in 28 outings for Lehigh Valley. An eight-year veteran, he has played for Florida, the Chicago White Sox, Detroit, Colorado and Texas, posting an 18-18 record and 4.74 ERA in 356.2 innings. He missed all of last season with a knee injury.

The Pirates will use Grilli as a late-inning reliever and setup man for closer Joel Hanrahan. Grilli's arrival indicates a reduced role for Jose Veras, who has struggled since the All-Star break.

Notes: To clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Grilli, the Pirates shifted reliever Evan Meek to the 60-day disabled list. Meek, who is rehabbing a shoulder injury, will be eligible to come off the DL on Aug. 7. ... The Pirates optioned infielders Josh Harrison and Pedro Ciriaco to Triple-A Indianapolis. It's expected that shortstop Ronny Cedeno (concussion) will be activated from the DL on Friday. ... First baseman Steve Pearce is expected to come off the DL on Friday, too. The Pirates will drop a reliever — sending Chris Leroux to Indy or (less likely) trading Veras — to make room on the roster. ... Catcher Ryan Doumit (fractured ankle) began a rehab assignment with Class-A Bradenton last night. ... Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf (shoulder) will make a rehab start Sunday for Double-A Altoona.

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