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

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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