First Pitch: The Bullpen Gets a Boost in Time For the Playoffs

Jason Grilli returned to the closer role tonight. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jason Grilli returned to the closer role tonight. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen has been lights out all year. Lately that same bullpen has been without two of the top performers this season. I’m not talking about the struggles from Mark Melancon, since Melancon is still a dominant pitcher, and the blown saves this week were hardly anything to worry about. I’m talking about Jason Grilli and Justin Wilson.

Grilli returned at the start of the month, but has been limited until recently. In three of his first four outings back he struggled to make it out of the inning. In his last two outings he did much better, pitching shutout innings each time. Tonight he returned to the closer role. After giving up a leadoff single he got a ground ball for a double play, followed by a ground ball to shortstop for the final out. That grounder was very similar to the one Melancon got with two outs on Friday night, only this time it was Clint Barmes making the throw to end the game, rather than Jordy Mercer throwing wild into the seats.

The Pirates also saw the return of Wilson in the eighth inning. The lefty has been lights out this year, but struggled in his last outing with low velocity. Wilson normally sits in the mid-90s and can touch upper 90s with his fastball. His last time on the mound he was sitting 91-93 MPH. That was his lowest velocity since April. The result was that Wilson took eight days off before returning tonight. He only pitched to one batter, but got a key double play, and saw the velocity bounce back. Wilson threw two pitches at 95 to start the at-bat. He then hit 98 on his third fastball, and 97 on the fourth fastball and sixth pitch of the at-bat to get the double play.

If Grilli and Wilson can return, then the Pirates bullpen will look great going into the playoffs. As I’ve said, I have no concerns with Melancon. Tony Watson has been one of the best relievers in baseball in the second half. Adding Grilli and Wilson to that combo gives the Pirates a lights out back of the bullpen that could really shorten games.

I’ve mentioned in the last week about how the playoffs are about the right team getting hot at the right time. The Pirates have a lot of things working well in that department with their pitching staff. The bullpen is starting to come back together. A.J. Burnett had a great outing tonight. Francisco Liriano is always reliable. Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole have both been pitching well, and Cole has been dominant lately. Those four starters plus the four relievers above could make the Pirates a dangerous team in the post-season.

Links and Notes

**Burnett, Martin Lead Pirates to 4-2 Win over Reds

**Pirates Notebook: ‘Nobody’s Trying to Hit Nobody’

**Looking at the Trends of Andrew McCutchen Getting Hit by the Reds

**A.J. Burnett 50/50 on Retiring After the 2013 Season

**Playoff Race Update: Pirates Have a Small Chance to Clinch Today

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • emjayinTN

    I agree about Mark Melancon, because he should have been out of the inning Friday night without giving up any runs except for a throwing error on the third out of the inning. Our defense has been solid all year as has been the bullpen, so no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater – crap happens. I also agree with Justin Wilson and we need that 95-98 velocity. I have a concern with Jason Grilli and it involves about 2 or 3 mph of velocity that has not returned, and he has to rely more on his breaking pitch. His fastball was a regular 94/95 right up until the arm injury, and now it is 91/92 – it does not sound like much, but it is a major difference. Sometimes after an injury it takes awhile before the pitcher “cuts it loose”, or he has lost that velocity for the remainder of 2013. I hope it is the latter.

    We needed that hit from Martin (he needed it even more), and it is obvious that they are pitching around Andrew McCutchen. That’s smart baseball, but others need to step up and we got that last night. One more win and the Pirates force the Nats to win 7 of their last 8 games – 2 with the Marlins at home today, then 3 on the road in St Louis followed by 3 on the road against the D’backs – just to tie. It would be great if the Pirates got that 90th win today going into the series where the Cards and Nats are bumping heads while we are in Chicago.

  • johndw28

    Tim last night was nice but I’m still concerned about Melancon and Grilli. Melancon wasn’t helped out by Jordy Mercer but he has had other struggles in September. We can talk about how one bad outing disproportionately impacts one’s #s but at end of day fact is his WHIP is over 1.7 after hovering around 1 or well below for most other months. Don’t overlook how close he was to blowing a 3 run lead in Texas. That would have been 3 blown saves in 6 opportunities; 2 of those being 3 run leads.

    Grilli did a nice job but I’m still concerned about the lack of velocity as I think the book on him will be to sit on his breaking stuff and not be so worried about him blowing a 91 or 92 mph fastball past you. I don’t think he is ready to be THE guy yet. Maybe closer by committee until further notice and take it on a game by game basis. Things worked out great with the DP as the Reds weren’t able to get his pitchcount up with extended at bats which is a big concern of mine.

    Justin Wilson was the guy I LOVED to see. He has been an unsung hero and we need him for the stretch run

  • emjayinTN

    The bullpen just got another add in the person of Jeff Locke, because if he starts another game somebody needs to be fired. I can put up with a lot, but this “nibble, nibble oh please don’t hit it hard BS” has got to stop. Either pitch to win by challenging hitters and throwing with a positive attitude or please move aside for some kids who actually want the opportunity.

    And, being in the state of Tennessee, I have the unique privilege of listening to the Reds Broadcast. I commented earlier in the year about what an objective call they made, but now we have the “homer” Sean Casey as our color guy on the Cincy broadcast. He is so over the top for Cincy it is ridiculous, and with a guy like Locke pitching that sissy ball, I am done after only 1/3 of an inning. Gomez, Taillon, Cumpton, anybody, but I have seen way too much of Jeff Locke this season – give me more of the guys who go out to the mound with a linebacker mentality. Time to go watch Chicago – nope, not the Bears, Chicago the Band at the Tennessee Theatre.