Pirates pitcher Jason Grilli entered Thursday's game with a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning but allowed a one-out homer to Devin Mesoraco that tied the game. Manager Clint Hurdle today removed him from the closer role.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CHICAGO — The Pirates moved Jason Grilli out of the closer role Friday for the time being, and replaced him with Mark Melancon.
Left-hander Tony Watson also will occasionally be used in save situations, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Grilli, 37, entered Friday having given up home runs in back-to-back outings, and has four blown saves this season after making the All-Star Game a year ago.
“Right now it’s just not working. He’s human; it’s not working,” Hurdle said. “Jason is going to get moved out of the closer’s role and we’re going to get him the opportunity to get a few outings in … when we’re behind. He can’t wait to get out there and work on a couple of things.
“We had a very engaging conversation [Friday]. He’s all about doing what’s best for the club, and getting better.”
Hurdle indicated Grilli will have the opportunity to work back into the role, adding, “We’ll definitely need him as the season continues to play out.”
Grilli said he views this period as a slump and will work toward making it a blip in his season.
He said his performance has nothing to do with health issues, and was hesitant to call his problems mechanical. He has 11 saves in 20 appearances this year.
“I’m going to work through it. I’m in a little bit of a slump. Nothing I can’t overcome,” Grilli said. “It’s no different than a [batter]. Maybe I’m a little off mechanically. I hate to go to mechanics because I know how to throw a baseball.
“In the body of work I’ve covered in 21⁄2 years and I’m having this little blip and this conversation right now is minute. If I can’t overcome this, I might as well do something else.
“My mentality is [that] I’m fine. I’m grateful that I can figure out what I need to change to do what everybody knows what I’m capable of doing.”
Hurdle said he did not have the answer for Grilli’s struggles, but will let his veteran work through them.
Of the four home runs he has surrendered this season, two came on fastballs and two on sliders.
“He did talk about feeling. Feeling can be mechanics. I do know there’s been times when you are best served by getting out of it. There’s no safety net for closers,” Hurdle said. “He won’t have to deal with that for a while. We’ll use Melancon and [there] could be an opportunity we use Watson. We’re very confident of what Mark can do there.”
Melancon stepped in last year as the closer when Grilli was on the disabled list, and again earlier this season when Grilli went on the disabled list in late April because of an oblique strain.
Melancon has 10 saves in 35 appearances this season.
“The best thing is all these guys came up and said, ‘Grill, you’re the guy. We believe in you.’ That’s all that matters to me,” Grilli said. “These guys believe in me and I know they want me back in the situation that I’m supposed to be in.”
Walker nearing return
Second baseman Neil Walker played in a simulated game Friday in Bradenton, Fla., with two at-bats from the right and two from the left.
Hurdle said Walker took ground balls after that, sequential batting practice in the cage and in the field, then ran the bases.
Asked if he reported feeling well?
“Yes,” Hurdle said. “They always do in rehab. It’s part of it.”
Walker is on schedule to rejoin the club early next week.
Worley earns another start
Vance Worley will get his second start with the Pirates today after pitching seven shutout innings in his first outing Sunday against the Miami Marlins.
“The ultimate test for him was going to be to pitch well here because he’s done it before,” Hurdle said. “Time will tell. He’s given us one start, it was very, very solid. We look forward to giving him the ball again [today] and see where he can take that.”
Worley gave up five hits, no runs, no walks and struck out five against the Marlins in his Pirates debut.
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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