Tuesday, July 23, 2013

If Grilli Is Down...

Jason Grilli sat in the locker room, alone and with his head down. The winning clubhouse was about as somber as Russian opera. We're not exactly sure what Grilli did to his arm last night, but judging by his reaction, it's not good. It was called "right forearm discomfort" yesterday, usually a euphemism for an achy elbow, and the team will evaluate him further today. He may well end up on the DL.

That would be a hard blow for a guy who has overcome so much - rehabbing from TJ surgery, then a shredded knee, working in the boonies of Lehigh Valley before becoming a set-up man and this year, an All-Star closer through sweat and sheer will. Now he looks to have another hill to climb.

The Pirates will have their bullpen shuffled because of his injury - if he lands on the DL, we wouldn't expect him back until September first just as a matter of rehab time and red tape - but it's built deep enough to continue to be a lock-down group, to the great credit of Neal Huntington.

The Shark Tank will move Mark Melancon to closer, and his stat line is even more impressive than Grilli's. His ERA is 0.87, his WHIP is 0.820, and he averages nine K to one walk per nine innings. And it won't be new territory; he closed for the Astros in 2011, saving 20 games.

Justin Wilson would be the heir apparent as bridge man. Bryan Morris, who has minor league experience at closing, is in the mix if the Bucs are uncomfortable in handing the position full-time to a lefty, even though Wilson's splits are excellent no matter what side the batter swings from. Wilson has worked the most high leverage situations, with an OBA of .205; Morris has worked to a .203 OBA in his turns at high leverage

Vin Mazzaro and Tony Watson have also worked late frames, so the Pirates have lots of options. Watson, in fact, may be a dark horse for the bridge; his OBA in high leverage is .085.

They likely would be joined by Jared Hughes if Grilli can't go, with Jeanmar Gomez as the long man. They have minor league options in Ryan Reid and Vic Black top among a pack of candidates. And if they do deal for another starter, the FO could opt to work Gerrit Cole out of the pen, though we think they'll keep him stretched as a starter at Indy if the rotation gets crowded. They can fill the hole in the dike internally.

The one thing they may miss is Grilli's leadership. We know chemistry is a word that's bandied about a lot, but the alpha shark in Pittsburgh's tank has been the vocal righty. Even if he's on the DL, he would still be physically with the team, and hopefully his presence will be enough to keep the bullpen on an even keel; Melancon is a much quieter guy, leading by example rather than by emotion.

Baseball is a game of ups and downs. When somebody goes down, someone else has to step up. We think the Pirate bullpen has the men and arms to step up and continue the job.

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