For the majority of the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the most reliable closers in the game in Jason Grilli.
Now, after the team's first 20 games in 2014, it may not be too early to make a change.
Grilli finished the 2013 regular season with 33 saves and an impressive earned run average of 2.70. However, those statistics may be misleading to those who did not watch the second half of the season, as Grilli simply was not the same pitcher as he was in the first half.
During the first half of the season, Grilli held batters to a 1.99 ERA and an incredible .176 batting average against him. His efforts landed him a spot on the National League All Star team in 2013.
After the break, his numbers quickly inflated, pitching to a 6.35 ERA in July before he was injured throughout the month of August. In the second half of the season overall, Grilli owned a 5.79 ERA while earning only four saves.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, Grilli seems to have left off where he finished in 2013 rather than where he began last season. He has let up four earned runs in 8.0 innings pitched while blowing three saves. For the record, he blew only two saves throughout last season.
At 37 years of age, Grilli's stamina has to be in question now due to his ineffectiveness over the last few months of regular season dating back to last season.
After Grilli blew two straight save opportunities to the first-place Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle brushed off the question of whether he would stick with Grilli or opt to give someone else a try in the closer role.
According to a report from the Associated Press, Hurdle said "It is the first time in two years-plus that he's had back-to-back bad marks. This is going to show where everybody is with Grilli. Do his teammates and fans jump off the boat or not?"
People are not necessarily jumping off the boat on Grilli yet, but the reality of his ineffectiveness simply cannot be ignored.
At the same time, the Pirates do not exactly have a great alternative for a closer on their roster.
Setup man Mark Melancon filled in nicely for Grilli last August, saving four games that month while pitching to an ERA of 1.00. After August, Melancon did convert seven more saves, but his ERA rose to 4.22 in his final 11 appearances.
Melancon is the perfect example of a guy who performs best when he is called on for holds rather than saves. Take him out of the mix and it is quite evident that the Pirates would have to add a player from outside of the organization if Grilli continues to struggle.
The good thing is that the Pirates are only 20 games into the season, so Grilli has time to work out any problems he is having. At the same time, however, they cannot afford to have late-inning leads slip away due to poor performances from their closer.
If Grilli had converted both saves, the Pirates would currently be sitting comfortably at 11-9 after Monday night's victory against the Cincinnati Reds. Instead, they are 9-11 and searching for answers out of the back end of the bullpen.
*Statistics Courtesy of Baseball Reference
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