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Grilli, Melancon forming formidable duo

MLB.com

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."

View Full Game Coverage

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."

View Full Game Coverage

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.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jason Grilli, Rymer Liriano, Mark Melancon