Pirates closer Jason Grilli a late bloomer
BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media June 8, 2013 9:26PM
The Cubs’ Starlin Castro (fielding the ball on a stolen base by the Pirates’ Starling Marte) has seen his batting average tumble to .247. | Joe Raymond~AP
The facts: 1:20 p.m., Ch. 9,
The pitchers: Jeff Locke (5-1, 2.45 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (1-8, 6.29).
Updated: July 10, 2013 6:55AM
Right-hander Jason Grilli is writing one of the feel-good stories of the season as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer.
Grilli, 36, embodies the term ‘‘journeyman’’: The Pirates are his sixth major-league team in 11 seasons. He has been traded twice, released twice, sold once, chosen in the Rule 5 draft once and allowed to enter free agency three times since he was a first-round draft choice of the San Francisco Giants in 1997. He was 2-3 with a 7.40 ERA in eight starts for the White Sox in 2004 and had a career record of
21-25 with a 4.15 ERA and five saves entering this season.
Grilli pitched for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle with the Colorado Rockies in 2008, and Hurdle liked the way he went about his business.
‘‘Then we both ran out of gas in ’09,’’ Hurdle said. ‘‘I got fired and he was cut loose, but I always kept tabs on him.’’
On Hurdle’s recommendation, the Pirates signed Grilli when the Philadelphia Phillies fulfilled a contractual obligation to release him when he failed to make their major-league roster in 2011. Grilli had a 2.91 ERA in 64 appearances as a setup man for 36-save closer Joel Hanrahan last season.
‘‘He pitched through the heart of the order more often than Hanrahan did,’’ Hurdle said.
After trading Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox during the offseason, the Pirates auditioned Grilli for the closer’s role in spring training. He has been a revelation, with a major-league-high 23 saves and a 0.98 ERA, allowing 22 baserunners in 27⅔ innings.
‘‘We weren’t going to move Joel just to move him, but we thought we had a Plan B,’’ Hurdle said. ‘‘Jason has always had a good fastball, a good breaking ball and a good, competitive heart. Anybody familiar with the caliber of the man is not surprised by this.’’
Body in motion
A 3-for-24 skid has dropped shortstop Starlin Castro’s average to .247. He hit seventh in the lineup as manager Dale Sveum works with him to be more ‘‘quiet’’ at the plate.
‘‘He’s a cut-and-slash guy who’s going to swing the bat,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘It may look the same, but he had less movement in his swing in 2010, 2011. He hasn’t lost bat speed, but when there’s so much going on as the ball is delivered, it’s going to get deeper on you than you think. His hand-eye coordination and his mechanics add up to a guy who can hit. It’s a matter of timing. Sometimes early success gets in the way of adjustments.’’
Nineteen of the Cubs’ 40 picks in the three-day amateur draft were pitchers, including 11 of the top 15. That was entirely by design.
‘‘The strength of the organization right now is position players, so we definitely wanted to have another pitching-heavy draft to give ourselves some flexibility,’’ scouting/player-development director Jason McLeod said.
‘‘A lot of the guys we took fit the criteria we like, so we feel we’ve added to our pitching depth.’’
The Cubs passed 1 million in attendance with a crowd of 38,405, second-most since Opening Day.