Pittsburgh Pirates | Grizzled vet Grilli ready to close

Pirates reliever has temperament for pen's top job

jdill@bradenton.comFebruary 15, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Jason Grilli is getting a serious role this year as he switches from the Pittsburgh Pirates' primary setup reliever to their closer.

But he's still keeping it light.

That's just who Grilli is.

Grilli is a character, quick to joke with teammates and keep the bullpen loose.

"It's an outward expression of some type of psychosis that you go through, but it's to stay loose," the 36-year-old Grilli said. "I'm relishing what opportunity this is, and I take that very seriously. But if you can't have fun doing it,

you are going to be tight given the situation. I've been through enough tight situations to get to this point. To me, I'm just enjoying the benefits of breaking through the obstacles instead of going around them. It's made me appreciate and get to the point I'm at right now. So I think I'm ready for that. I've been conditioned."

A devastating injury when he was with the Cleveland Indians nearly robbed Grilli of his baseball career, which is why he has turned to such an expressive personality, one perfect for the closer's role.

"I think it's something he should thrive in, because he's looking to be in that role," Pittsburgh pitcher Jeff Karstens said. "Those people aren't normal, and I can consider Grilli as not a normal person. ... I think short-term memory and just the mentality that you're that good. I think that's what separates (closers) and the mentality they have from other relievers."

Grilli is taking over the mantle from Joel Hanrahan, who converted 76 saves the past two seasons before he was traded to the Boston Red Sox in the offseason.

"It was an honor to set up for Hanrahan," said Grilli, who had a career-high 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings last year. "The guy already has had a pretty good darn career and is going to have a (heck) of a career. To be an heir for his position was something that I wasn't chasing. I thought we made a pretty dynamic duo as far as finishing the game out. I know my stats ... against the middle-of-the-order guys. So do I think I can do it? Yeah."

However, Grilli, who will represent Italy in next month's World Baseball Classic, is vacating the eighth inning duties he performed so well in 2012 as the Pirates ascended to the top of the National League Central Division in July.

Entering the 2012 season, Grilli said he took great pride in allowing just two inherited runners to score in 2011.

That's a stat Grilli said is the most significant with relievers.

He blossomed again last year, when he didn't let any inherited runners cross the plate. The Pirates went 38-14 when Grilli appeared in the eighth inning.

Now that role is left to a others, including Mark Melancon, who came over from the Red Sox in the Hanrahan deal; Jared Hughes; and Tony Watson.

Grilli said those guys are capable of filling the void he is leaving and that they all have the ability to take over his role in a few years when he's no longer playing the game.

For now, though, Grilli is the guy at the end of the game, and his presence at the back end of the bullpen in 2012 gave Pittsburgh a strong set of dependable relievers to finish off games.

That quartet included Hanrahan, Juan Cruz and Chris Resop.

Cruz was released at the end of the 2012, while Hanrahan and Resop were traded. That leaves Grilli as the lone cog from a group that spelled disaster for opposing hitters.

"He's pitched situationally in a closer's role," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "He just didn't have the title.

"I do know he's a man that's always looked for more, wanted more; he's accepted whatever he's been given. He's earned a lot of where he's gotten to, and he's also dealt with the ups and downs the game's presented, both physically and competitively. He's as strong and as in good of shape as he's ever been in."

Grilli is well-traveled. Pittsburgh is his 10th stop in the majors.

"I've got a third of them out of the way," Grilli said of the 30 major-league teams. "I don't think I'm going to play long enough to get them all. ... I don't have much room in my closet for jerseys. I was running out of space there."

So when the right-hander signed a two-year deal for $6.75 million early into the offseason, it was a change of pace for a guy that usually hasn't known where he was headed until January or early February.

That, in itself, is what gave Grilli the freedom to focus solely on his offseason work.

Just don't expect anything new in his repertoire.

"There's no extra pitches, there's no funky stuff," said Grilli, who paired his 2.91 earned run average with 32 holds in 2012. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as they say. I'm going to go with it. I'm going to come at guys like I always have whether I was in the starting role, (or) middle role. (The) sixth, seventh, eighth, I've done the accordion job here as a pitcher."

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