SOUTH HILLS – I would not be surprised if we see Jason Grilli relieved of closing duties, at least temporarily, after Pirates manager Clint Hurdle didn’t exactly come out in strong support of his embattled closer, following Grilli’s fourth blown save of the season Thursday. (The Pirates’ MLB-worst 14th blown save.)
Hard to believe it was the one-year anniversary of Grilli’s first blown save of 2013. Grilli opened last year with 25 consecutive saves before allowing a home run to Jay Bruce on June 19, 2013 at Great American BallPark. The Pirates had not lost a game when leading after eight innings until that point.
Asked about Grilli’s ninth-inning status: “I’ll talk to who I need to talk to: the coaches involved, Neal (Huntington),” Hurdle said. “We’ll make a decision that we feel is best for the ballclub.”
Any time a manager starts spreading responsibility for a future decision – i.e. needing to talk to all parties – that indicates a change might be coming.
Grilli isn’t the same guy as he was pre-injury last year.
While the velocity is only down a tick, the location has been off and the slider hasn’t been the same special pitch. He made another mistake with a hanging slider to Devin Mesoraco on Thursday. He’s turned into an extreme flyball pitcher (25 percent groundball rate) who is susceptible to home runs. His strikeouts are down by five per nine innings and his walks have nearly doubled.
Maybe Grilli can get righted but it should be in lower-leverage situations for awhile.
And here’s where the opportunity is for Hurdle to advance his profession …
Last year, Hurdle surprised many in his willingness to go away from convention and become an extreme adopter of shifts.
Several years earlier in Colorado, the Rockies, under Hurdle, became the first team to adopt a four-man rotation in more than a decade.
Now Hurdle has another opportunity to be something of a trailblazer again. He can simply not name a replacement closer and manage the bullpen by situations not by a flawed statistic (the save). He can save Tony Watson, Justin Wilson and Mark Melancon for high-leverage situations whether they come in the sixth inning, the seven or the ninth.
Ace relievers were once called “firemen” not closers because they entered games in high-stress situations and got teams out of jams.
Now we save or best relievers to begin clean ninth innings with two- and three-run leads? It makes no strategic sense.
Some manager will eventually begin managing his bullpen in more thoughtful and beneficial ways and stop conforming. That manager will gain an advantage.
This marks Hurdle’s chance.