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Why Demoting Jason Grilli Was a Smart Move by the Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jason Grilli delivers during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Pittsburgh Thursday, June 19, 2014. The Pirates won in 12 innings, 4-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Ryan GauleCorrespondent IJune 23, 2014

Well, it is about time, and this one was a no-brainer.   

The Pittsburgh Pirates made a smart move Friday by removing Jason Grilli from his role as the team's closer, as reported by Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  

The 37-year-old reliever has had a very disappointing season so far, pitching to an earned run average of 4.12 in 21 games.  He has blown four save opportunities out of 15 while also posting an 0-2 record.  

Compare those statistics to the statistics Grilli compiled in 2013 and it is no wonder why the Pirates have decided to remove him from the role.  In 2013, Grilli was brilliant on the mound, compiling 33 saves in 54 games while also being named to the National League All-Star team.  

However, Grilli simply has not been able to find consistent success on the mound this season.  

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

According to Menendez, Grilli was upbeat about the decision the organization made, saying "I’m going to work through it. I’m in a little bit of a slump. Nothing I can’t overcome."

With Grilli out of the closer role, former setup man Mark Melancon will get another chance to close the door on ballgames for the Bucs in 2014. 

Menendez also had the opportunity to interview manager Clint Hurdle, and he said, "We’ll use Melancon and [there] could be an opportunity we use Watson. We’re very confident of what Mark can do there."

Melancon has been nothing short of dominant in his first two seasons with Pittsburgh, posting a combined ERA of 1.54 in 105.1 innings pitched.  Last season he earned 16 saves for the Pirates.  

This year, he already has saved 12 games for Pittsburgh, so it is easy to see why the Pirates are so confident in their decision to use Melancon.  

May 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Mark Melancon (35) pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 9-8. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates have had their share of misfortune in 2014, as they are struggling to get over the .500 mark with a record of 37-38.  However, this situation with Grilli is not unfortunate for Pittsburgh in any way.  

In his first appearance since being demoted on Friday, Grilli faced four batters in the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs and struck out two of them on his way to a scoreless frame.  For the first time in a long time, Grilli was visibly filled with adrenaline and excitement, as he knows he can still pitch.  

Another player that Hurdle mentioned is Tony Watson, who is having a season for the ages out of the bullpen for the Pirates.  In 34 appearances, the 29-year-old is 5-0 with an ERA of just 0.77.  He has been nearly untouchable during the first two months of the 2014 regular season.

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Instead of hanging their collective heads and frantically searching for an answer, Pittsburgh's organization is confident in both Melancon and Watson, and it has every right to be.  

Grilli can still help the Pirates by pitching well in the early phases of ballgames, and that is a real possibility considering he will not have the stressful task of closing out games for the Pirates.  

On the other hand, the Pirates have two bright stars who they can count on to get the job done late in games, and if the statistics Watson and Melancon have produced can carry over into the final innings, Grilli may never get that closer role back.  

This was the type of move that truly benefits both parties, as the Pirates have two other reliable flamethrowers in Melancon and Watson, while Grilli will have time to regroup mentally and put in the amount of work necessary to be successful in his new role.  

 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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