Grilli Thriving In New Closer Role


Who the heck is this Jason Grilli guy, anyway?

The first-year Pirates closer picked up his major league leading ninth save of the season Wednesday night, and has yet to allow a run this year. His dominance at the back end of the bullpen has helped Pittsburgh to a 13-9 start. So we here at Seeds All Day think it’s time we got to know the right hander a little better.

Grilli was a first round draft pick as a starting pitcher in 1997, selected fourth overall by the San Francisco Giants. He was expected to be a top-of-the-rotation guy, but he never was able to catch on as a big league starter. He debuted at the major league level in 2000 for the Florida Marlins, but never started more than eight games in any single season. By 2006, he had been converted to a middle reliever, but quickly became a journeyman. He has been cut, released, traded, put on waivers, and sent down to the minors time after time by club after club.

In 2011, Grilli found himself stuck in a quagmire within the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He was performing well at for the team’s triple-A affiliate, but the Phillies brass refused to give him an opportunity. Six minor leaguers were called up ahead of Grilli, which almost convinced the aging right hander to take his talents to Korea to pitch.

Before he could pack his bags for the far east, the Pirates came calling. Literally. Grilli had a clause in his contract that said if any team wanted to promote him to the big league levels, the Phillies either had to promote him or release him. When Pittsburgh expressed interest in acquiring Grilli and assigning him to their 25-man roster, Philadelphia released him. The Pirates signed the right hander a day later.

Pittsburgh has had no reason to regret its decision. Grilli appeared in 28 games for the Pirates in 2011, Grilli struck out 37 batters in 32.2 innings and posted an ERA of 2.48, the best of any season in his career. He followed with a 2.91 ERA 2012, appearing in 64 games and striking out an incredible 90 batters through 58.2 innings.

Now 36, Grilli is closing games for the first time in his long and well-traveled career – and he’s thriving. He’s finished 11 games for the Pirates, saved nine of them, and has struck out 16 batters just 10 innings of work.

Yahoo! writer Tim Brown chronicles Grilli’s emotional journey much better than SAD could ever hope to, so we encourage you to read this piece.

And to continue to celebrate Pittsburgh ninth innings, which have become familiarly known as “Grilled Cheese Time” by the three rivers.

About Matthew George

Matthew George graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2008 with a bachelor of science in journalism. He spent three years writing sports for the Kentucky Kernel, the university's daily paper, and served as assistant sports editor. After undergrad, Matthew attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University where he earned his juris doctorate. He is now admitted to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.

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