Grilli, Melancon forming formidable duo
PITTSBURGH - From Clint Hurdle's Book of Zen:
"People have an idea of who somebody is, and when they do something different, it confuses them."
The Pirates manager said that about the Braves' Kris Medlen, the one-time relief pitcher who has flourished as a starter, but he could have just as well have been talking about Jason Grilli, a first-time closer at the advanced baseball age of 36.
And how is Grilli doing at his new job? On Saturday, he went to 6-for-6 in save situations by striking out the side in the ninth inning of the Bucs' 3-1 win over Atlanta. He took the ball, of course, from Mark Melancon, who has owned the eighth inning throughout this young season.
That duo is fulfilling one of a modern manager's biggest hopes: They have shortened games to seven innings, affording Hurdle to go all-in for a lead going into that frame. Entering Sunday's series finale with Atlanta, the Bucs were 8-0 when leading after seven.
"You try to find ways to get one-up by the seventh," Hurdle said. "They really do affect the strategy."
Remarkably, the Pirates have not missed a beat after breaking up last season's very successful end-game tandem. When Grilli and Joel Hanrahan worked the eighth and ninth innings, they were 34-2. Dealing Hanrahan to Boston -- ironically, for the new setup man, Melancon -- and giving Hanrahan's job to Grilli is panning out.
While Melancon entered play Sunday having retired 24 of the 25 men he had faced in his eight eighth-inning appearances, Grilli had allowed only three hits and fanned 11 in his seven shutout innings.