When the 2013 season ended, Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Mark Melancon had to have thought that he wouldn't be moving out of his setup role any time soon.
Closer Jason Grilli was exceptional in 2013, collecting 33 saves and owning an earned run average of 2.70 in 50.0 innings pitched.
At the same time, Melancon was even more dominant in the setup role, owning a 1.39 ERA in 71.0 innings pitched. The Pirates had a lockdown bullpen in the latter stages of games, which was a major reason they won 94 games last season.
Grilli struggled early on in 2014 before recently landing on the 15-day disabled list, allowing four earned runs in 8.0 innings pitched. His injury led to the Pirates giving Melancon the nod as the temporary closer.
That temporary role may become permanent over the next week, and here is why.
It looks as if Grilli's age is finally catching up with him. After all, 37 is a pretty old age for a closer in the major leagues. Very rarely do we see a man who is up there in age dominate in the closer role.
On the other hand, Melancon is in the prime of his career. The 29-year-old reliever has shown that he can thrive in pressure-packed situations in the past, earning 37 saves since the start of the 2011 regular season.
When Grilli was hurt toward the end of last season, Melancon put together a streak of nine straight successful saves.
If Melancon dominates during Grilli's time on the disabled list, the closer role rightfully should belong to him, as the Pirates have yet to put a winning streak together, and any kind of change for the better could only help them.
Melancon has allowed only two earned runs in 12.0 innings pitched in 2014 while striking out nine. He has continued to do his job, but now we will have to see if he can thrive in the closer role.
If he does, we may see a new full-time closer in Pittsburgh, as Melancon can take a major step in his own career and help the Pirates win more ballgames as they look to make it back to the playoffs for the second straight season.
*Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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