News broke Friday afternoon that the Pittsburgh Pirates have removed Jason Grilli from the closer’s role, according to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Rob Biertempfel.
Setup man Mark Melancon will get the lion’s share of saves, according to Biertempfel, while Grilli will be used in low-leverage situations—games the team is losing, in other words.
What a difference a year makes.
This time last season, Grilli was just weeks away from attending his first All-Star Game—a feat made even more impressive by the fact that he was 36 years old and in the midst of a career resurgence more than 16 years after being drafted.
The man fans affectionately refer to as Grilled Cheese pitched to a 2.70 ERA last year, giving up just 15 runs in 50 innings. In contrast, he’s already given up nine runs in 18.2 innings this season.
The four home runs Grilli gave up in 2013 have already been equaled this year, including two game-changing home runs in back-to-back games against the Cincinnati Reds this week. His 4.34 ERA isn’t horrendous, but it’s certainly not ideal for a closer.
So what’s the issue? Why has Grilli fallen so far from his lights-out performances last year at the back end of the bullpen?
For starters, his strikeouts are done, his walks are up and, as Rant Sports’ Zach Morrison said, his command is awful.
The odd thing about Grilli’s situation is that his velocity on both his fastball and slider are down, but not by much. Grilli’s average fastball velocity is down by just 0.6 miles per hour and his slider is down just 0.4 miles per hour compared to 2013. Grilli’s problem isn’t his velocity—it’s his command.
Fan reaction to Grilli’s demotion will surely be mixed, but can anyone blame Clint Hurdle for making the move? The team has been struggling all year to get back to a .500 winning percentage and is currently eight games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
It goes without saying, but the Pirates can not afford to lose so many games in the final inning, especially after the rest of the team worked so hard to secure a lead.
As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook said Friday, losing too many games like that can have a very real effect on the psyche of a team, especially one that’s struggling.
Nothing demoralizes a team more than when it plays hard for three or four hours and builds a lead only to see the closer blow it in three or four minutes. The Pirates lead the National League with 14 blown saves.
Fans will now get the chance to see if Grilli can regain his form in low-pressure situations. If he can’t, it might be time for the team to part ways and close the curtain on Grilli’s career, according to Morrison:
If he continues to regress, then the Pirates shouldn’t hesitate to cut ties with him. Something needs to be done soon however, because right now, the Grilled Cheese is toast.