Michael Sanserino takes a weekly look at the team, the issues and the questions
June 9, 2013 4:00 AM
Jason Grilli celebrates another save.
By Michael Sanserino Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Clint Hurdle stepped into the visiting clubhouse one day in July in Busch Stadium, Jason Grilli couldn't bear to look. A feeling overcame him as Hurdle announced which Pirates would represent the team in the All-Star game.
"I just put my head down because I knew I'd be emotional about it," Grilli said.
Hurdle read two names: Andrew McCutchen and Joel Hanrahan.
Grilli, who had a 2.05 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP at the time, was crushed. He knew it was hard for a non-closer reliever to be named an All-Star. But that didn't make him want it any less.
"I was so hopeful last year," he said.
This year, Grilli is trying to temper his expectations. While his first All-Star selection would be a great accomplishment for a 36-year-old, first-time closer whose career had been jeopardized by injury, he knows such a distinction is out of his hands.
And with about one month before San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy selects the pitchers for the National League squad, Grilli knows anything can happen in that time.
"You want a surprise to be a surprise," he said.
But he is also a smart man. Heading into this weekend, he led the major leagues in saves and had an ERA less than 1.00. Statistics like those rarely go unnoticed around the All-Star Game.
This year's midsummer classic at Citi Field in New York City would be even more special for Grilli, who grew up near Syracuse, N.Y., and pitched at Seton Hall in South Orange, N.J., about 20 miles west of Queens.
"For me, this would kind of be like my big fat Italian wedding, given where it's at and what I've been through," he said.
Grilli said he hopes one of his teammates -- either in the bullpen or elsewhere -- would join him if he were to make it because he wouldn't be a successful closer without them putting him in that position.
"The thing that would probably be the more special than the game itself is having my sons on the field before the game," he said. "It's always been something I dreamed about doing with my boys. Hopefully I'll get the chance."
Mr. Wizard of the dugout
Earlier this season, Hurdle indicated the Pirates were using new technology to track some skills that were previously uncharted.
In April, Hurdle said the Pirates have a way of determining hit velocity -- or the speed at which the ball leaves the bat. That was after Pedro Alvarez smacked a single that measured 111 mph off his bat. He set the team record in 2012 at 116 mph.
"How you transform that into meaning, I'm not sure," Hurdle said at the time. "Other than it's really hard."
Last week, Hurdle said the Pirates adopted another bit of technology in 2012 that lets the team track the number of steps players take on both sides of the ball.
"I'll probably get my hand slapped again," Hurdle said when he told reporters of the measurement, perhaps an indication that he didn't make many friends when he shared some of the other measurement capabilities earlier in the year.
Hurdle used the data last week when deciding to sit center fielder Andrew McCutchen for a game.
"He's been running around a lot," Hurdle said.
And he now has statistics to back it up. Hurdle said McCutchen has logged more miles on his feet this season than he did at the same point last season.
"I've seen it," McCutchen said of the readings. "I guess it's cool. It doesn't really help me. There's not much I can really do about it. I know I run a lot."
How it works will remain a mystery, at least to those outside the organization, Hurdle said. There is some proprietary information involved. But in the Union of European Football Associations, soccer players' movements are documented with cameras that send video feeds to laptops that make those computations.
"I'm not going to tell you how, but I'm just going to tell you that we're doing it," Hurdle said with a grin.
Hurdle said he did not use a similar method of measurement in his previous stops as a coach and manager, and he is still finding ways to put it to use.
"It gives us an activity barometer of how much mileage they're [recording], how much time they actually are on their feet and how much distance they're actually moving around," he said.
Indianapolis now, big things tomorrow
One year after winning their division, the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians entered this weekend with a double-digit lead in the standings on every other division opponent and had the best record in the International League.
The Indians have gotten there behind a handful of prospects, including blue-chip pitcher Gerrit Cole, former first-rounder catcher Tony Sanchez and a plethora of players with major league experience.
The majority of the Indians have at least some major league experience, what some call "4A" players who play well in Class AAA but struggle to find major league success.
The Indians also have a couple of good coaches. Manager Dean Treanor and pitching coach Tom Filer have had their names appear in several job searches in recent years.
Treanor recently notched his 200th career victory (against fewer than 150 losses) as Indians manager. Filer took part in 2012 All-Star festivities as the pitching coach for Team USA in the Futures Game.
"I don't have any doubt that there will be a day where he will be a major league pitching coach," Hurdle said. "He pitched for me [in 1993], if you can believe that. ... He might have been the ace of my rotation in the International League."
The Pirates have the utmost trust in Treanor and Filer to mold the young prospects who come through Indianapolis and to help right the careers of those who are optioned back there.