PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Once the Pirates starting pitcher is taken out of the game, the role of the bullpen is to get the ball to closer Joel Hanrahan to end the game. After tough competition from the ‘pen during spring training, the bullpen is starting to shape up and roles are starting to become more clear.
And one of those roles is Hanrahan’s set up man. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said that guy is right-hander Jason Grilli.
“We’ve broken down our bullpen internally,” Hurdle said. “We have options from the seventh to get through the eighth. I think Grilli will probably be the first guy we will anticipate getting the ball to in the eighth.”
Grilli, who the Pirates acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in late July in 2011, embraces pitching in the late inning.
“You want to always work towards something to continue to get better,” Grilli said. “And at my age, I hate to say that, but I’ve worked so hard to get to this point that it’s a feather in the cap. I just want to pick up where I left off from last year and anytime I’m given the ball, it’s just a situation that you have to come in and do the job. It’s expected of you, if there’s runners on, if it’s just putting up a zero to give Joel the ball. I’ve always wanted to achieve something cool like this. It will be a feather in my cap to do it, to get rewarded with something like that, and to do the job.”
Grilli appeared in 28 games (32.2 innings) with Pittsburgh in 2011. He came in from the ‘pen mostly in the late innings with the Pirates last year, splitting the eighth inning role with righty Jose Veras. But Grilli’s versatility was valuable for Hurdle, and he would also pitch anywhere from the fifth inning on, multiple innings, high-leverage situations.
The right-hander came in for a save situation on September 24 against the Cincinnati Reds — his first since pitching with Colorado at Wrigley Field on August 29, 2009 at Houston. After picking up the save, Hurdle said after the game he believed Grilli could handle the ninth inning. And if Hanrahan is unavailable from the ‘pen, due to pitching on back-to-back innings, you might see Grilli get the call.
“That would be fine with me too,” Grilli said with a smile. “It’s a different situation when it’s the ninth inning. You got to put the nail in the coffin for the win. To give your team a victory is pretty special. I’m happy to do whatever job is expected of me. And I just want to do it well.”
Hurdle said that right-hander Juan Cruz and Chris Resop will also see some time in the later innings. The versatile ‘pen has plenty of options to put up zero’s.
“I think we’ve got a host of guys that can get us through the seventh, need be, matchups,” Hurdle said. “Whether it’s [Lefty Tony] Watson, whether it’s Cruz. Cruz can also play into that 8th inning role if Grilli has thrown back-to-back days. Resop’s available.”
“Evan Meek, it’s going to be interesting to find out where his niche is going to be. But eventually we’ll get him involved. He’s had a great deal of success dealing with left-handed hitters over his time in the Major Leagues…We believe we’ve got a lot of different options out there.”
And if the Pirates get into a jam, right-hander Chris Resop will get the ball. Resop ranked ninth among N.L. relief pitchers in innings pitched (69.2). He also allowed just 18 of his 56 inherited runners to score in 2011.
“We get the bases loaded, no outs, you know who we’ll go to there,” Hurdle said laughing. “Based on last years performance.”
Right-hander Jared Hughes will be the long relief guy in the ‘pen. After starting the 2011 season in Double-A Altoona, where he made 11 starts and appeared in two games in relief, Hughes was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis in June where he was used exclusively in the bullpen. Hughes posted a 2.11 ERA over 42.2 innings with 45 strikeouts before getting a call to the big leagues on September 6. He finished with a 4.09 ERA over 12 games in Pittsburgh.
“Hughes is going to be used more for length early on,” Hurdle said.
“I’m just going to do whatever they ask,” Hughes said. “If they want me to go four innings, I’ll do it. If they want me to get one out, I’ll do it. I’m just going to go out there with the intensity and competitiveness that I can, and not think too much past the guy I’m facing then.”