PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Back from the bereavement list on Wednesday, Jason Grilli showed no signs of rust after making his first appearance in relief in three days. Grilli struck out the New York Mets’ heart of the lineup — Kirk Nieuwenhuis, David Wright and Lucas Duda — swinging in the eighth inning. The righty reliever lowered his season ERA to just 2.12 over his 18 appearances.
Grilli has been a huge asset to the bullpen, shutting down the late innings for the club since Pittsburgh signed him as a free agent on July 21, 2011. But this year, Grilli has been throwing the ball even better. The 35-year-old has 30 strikeouts over 17 innings in relief while walking just nine. Grilli has recorded at least one strikeout in each of his outings.
“I’m not thinking about it,” Grilli said of racking up punchouts this season. “I guess you guys pay attention to more attention to that stuff than me. I tend not to pay attention and talk about it. I’m just so locked in. Just my approach. Just enjoying throwing the baseball. Just have ball control. I know when I’m doing it right and I’m just putting it where I want to put it. And I’m just doing it aggressively.”
Grilli has allowed just two runs in May and has not allowed a hit in 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position. He also has held lefty bats to just a .161 BAA while on the mound. Grilli missed the entire 2010 season due to knee surgery, which almost ended his career. This year he is throwing passion with every pitch he lets fly.
“This man’s got a huge desire,” Pirates’ Manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s got huge heart. He had the game taken away from him. There’s something to be said for that. Some of it’s on Jason as well. To have the game taken way from you and not know if he’s going to come back, he has come back with a renewed passion, and a renewed commitment that’s special and significant.”
“This guy’s throwing the ball harder than I’ve ever seen him throw it. And I had him in his best year before this in 2008 in Colorado. He’s pitching better than that. Good for him. And good for us.”
Pittsburgh’s pitching staff has been one of the best in the Majors so far this season. The staff’s 3.33 combined ERA is ranked No. 4 in all of baseball, and the bullpen is ranked No. 3 in the big leagues with a 2.37 ERA — first in the National League.
“We have an unbelievable pitching staff,” Grilli said. “I think the League knows that. We can call ourselves a bunch of nobodies over here because I like that. I love being an underdog. I’ve been an underdog my whole life. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, this is the best you’ve pitched.’ Maybe I’m getting a little recognition, or maybe we’re getting the recognition that we deserve. Let’s face it, we’re in Pittsburgh where we’re not a highly touted team as the Yankees are, the Boston Red Sox, all those. I’d rather be in a situation where nobody expects much out of us and just go out there. It’s just a fun place to be at.”