Great Pittsburgh Pirates teams of the past have always had unsung heroes in the bullpen. Back in the late 1970’s, it was Enrique Romo and Dave Roberts. The early 90’s Buccos had Roger Mason and Bob Patterson. These relievers are usually journeymen, guys who have carved out a decent major league career simply by taking any contract they could year to year.
The Pirates of recent years have been good at finding valuable relievers on minor-league deals – Javier Lopez and D.J. Carrasco come to mind. Perhaps the best pickup of the past few years for the Pirates was when they signed RP Jason Grilli on July 21, 2011. Grilli had spent the beginning of his summer pitching for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. After posting a 1.93 ERA over 32 1/3 innings for the metal hogs he was unceremoniously released from his contract. The Phillies then went into the dog days of summer and eventually the NL Playoffs with guys such as Michael Stutes in their bullpen. Something tells me they probably wish they could borrow Doc Brown’s time machine to go back to July 20 of last year and keep Jason Grilli around.
Grilli was picked up by the Pirates on a recommendation by Manager Clint Hurdle, who had managed Grilli in Colorado in 2008-2009. The Bucs were looking to collect another live arm for their bullpen and Grilli had the 95 mph cheese that they craved.
Grilli came to Pittsburgh and posted a 2.48 ERA over 32.2 IP and struck out 37 batters, earning him a spot in the 2012 bullpen. With former All-Star RP Evan Meek still an unknown, the Pirates essentially handed Grilli the set-up role to closer Joel Hanrahan to start this season. All the man known to his Twitter followers as @grillcheese49 has done is become quite possibly the best set-up man in the N.L. Central.
After another scoreless eighth inning tonight in a 3-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park, Grilli has a 2.61 ERA and has struck out 18 batters over 10.0 IP. With “The Hammer” seeming to be finding his 2011 self more every night, and RP Juan Cruz (another Pirates RP reclamation project) still yet to give up an earned run, the Pirates bullpen is once again on a roll.
Jason Grilli has had a career that is the definition of “journeyman”. He has pitched for the Florida Marlins (2000-2001), Chicago White Sox (2004), Detroit Tigers (2005-2008), Colorado Rockies (2008-2009), Texas Rangers (2009), and the Pirates. In between, he has spent time with minor league clubs across North America – Fresno, Shreveport, Calgary, Brevard County, Portland, back to Calgary, Jupiter, Albuquerque, Charlotte, Toledo, and of course Lehigh Valley. He represented Italy in the World Baseball Classic in 2009. He has chalked up Frequent Flyer miles as often as he has racked up K’s.
Is it possible that Jason Grilli has finally found a forever home here in the Steel City?
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