SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – The Pirates’ win last night was costly as closer Jason Grilli left the game with two outs in the ninth in severe pain.
Grilli left with a right-arm injury, what the club is describing as dreaded “forearm tightness,” a symptom that can often be a sign of a UCL ligament tear.
You never want to see an athlete walk off the field like that, particularly a good guy like Grilli. And a long-term injury to Grilli could destabilize the Pirates’ bullpen, what has been the team’s top strength this season. We’ve seen what happens before when a closer goes down and the rest of the bullpen arms are forced to jump up a role, it doesn’t always work out well.
Yes, I’m aware Grilli was on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week. Further fodder for jinx advocates
If Grilli is down for an extended period of time: I see the Pirates having three contingency options:
Plan A: Mark Melancon becomes the closer and everyone else jumps up a role.
Justin Wilson and Tony Watson are suddenly coming in games an inning early as key set up men, the problem is they are both left-handed. Perhaps Vic Black is called up to replace Grilli and give the Pirates another right-handed power arm.
Melancon’s been great but moving him to the ninth-inning is an unknown. I think he would be fine — though some think closing is much different than setting up. I think it’s the trickle-down effect into the bridge innings is the area that is concerning if Melancon is forced to close. Pitchers entering the 5th, 6th and 7th innings are going to be weaker arms if Grilli is hurt.
Plan B: Make a trade.
If the Pirates learn Grilli has sustained a severe and/or season-ending injury they have a week to make a deal before the deadline. They can find a new closer, perhaps, or find more bullpen depth. But this is tricky as trading for relief help is often a no-win situation for the team acquiring it: See: Chris Davis for Koju Uehara and Brian Giles for Ricardo Rincon
Plan C: Leave everyone else in their roles and promote a new closer
Let Melancon keep pitching the eighth, leave Wilson and Watson alone in their current roles. Limit disruption as much as possible by inserting, say, Vic Black in the ninth.
Neftali Feliz and Aroldis Chapman have recently proven talent trumps experience in the bullpen. Black is not in their category but he’s having a very nice year at Triple-A and I think he can get the games final three outs more often than not. Chance of this happening, virtually nil.
HOW THE BRAUN AND GARZA DEPARTURES HURT THE PIRATES
Ryan Braun showed the country how not to apologize yesterday in agreeing to a rest-of-the season ban for his involvement in suspected PED use. He trotted out “I’m not perfect,” he apologized to anyone he “may have disappointed,” and how noted how tough it (his PED use and subsequent lies?) have been on him and his family.
But I’m not going to get too involved in Braun-related news today, the national outlets have that covered.
Matt Garza was also traded from the Cubs to the Rangers yestreday and the Cubs returned a decent package for a rental, assuming infield prospect Mike Olt bounces back and pitchers C.J. Edwards lives up to his potential.
What these two moves have done is weaken the Have-Notes in the NL Central.
The bad news for the Pirates is the Cardinals have 18 more games against the Brewers and Cubs, the Reds have 16, and the Pirates have 13. Advantage: Cardinals and Reds, whose schedules are a bit more favorable than the Pirates going forward.
All in all, the Pirates can’t afford many more Mondays like this going forward … even if the day includes a win.