Former pitcher continues professional career as closer in Pittsburgh
Three outs. That is all former Seton Hall baseball player Jason Grilli needs to get, but he is doing it in the Major Leagues.
Now in his 16th season playing professional baseball, Grilli finds himself as the closer of the Pittsburgh Pirates after a career filled with trips up and down from the minors, role changes and a career threatening knee injury.
“It’s a dream come true basically,” Grilli said. “I know its clich?©, but I’ve never dreamed about doing anything but this ever since I was a little kid. To be able to experience what I’ve experienced so far and what I’ve accomplished so far, it’s been journey.”
That journey started at Seton Hall where he set the single season and career strikeout records while becoming the highest draft pick in school history when the San Francisco Giants selected him with the fourth pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft.
Despite being selected at the top of the draft, nothing came easy. After making his Major League debut in 2000, Grilli continued to move up and down between the big leagues and AAA ball, never making more than eight starts in the Major Leagues.
Before the 2005 season, he was released by the Chicago White Sox before being picked up by the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers however did not see Grilli as a starting pitcher and moved him to the bullpen.
“It was an adjustment, just like anything,” Grilli said “I looked at it as I was pitching and knew I could pitch in the big leagues. I didn’t want to be a defensive lineman, so to speak, of what I’m doing and I knew I could but I just never was given the opportunity of, here are 30 starts.”
The 2006 season with the Tigers was Grilli’s first season not playing in the minor leagues with him making 51 appearances for the club as they advanced to the World Series. In the World Series, Grilli made two appearances allowing only one walk in 1.2 innings pitched as the Tigers fell in five games.
Grilli stayed in the Big Leagues with the Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers before he faced his biggest setback in 2010. During Spring Training, Grilli severely injured his knee doing drills which threatened his ability to walk, let alone play baseball.
“I said I’m making it back because I’m not done with baseball,” Grilli said. “Baseball may say it’s trying to weed me out as this game does but I’m not done with baseball and I’m going to take my time and turn in my jersey when I say it’s time for me to do it and pass the baton to somebody else. At 36 I’m just getting started because I’m finally getting the chance.”
Following a successful surgery, the Philadelphia Phillies signed him to a minor league contract before being released and signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Finishing last season with a 2.91 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 58.2 innings, the Pirates decided to move him to the closer role.
“It’s a long time coming and probably somewhat overdue,” Grilli said about getting the high profile role. “I’ve had some gravel road along the way and looking back at it to say where I am today it was well worth it. Would I’ve have liked it to come sooner, yeah.”
As the closer this season Grilli has saved all 10 opportunities he has had while allowing only one run in 11 innings all while striking out 17.
“I can say it’s all been worth it,” Grilli said. “I’m relishing and putting everything into taking advantage of the opportunity that I’ve been given right now. Once a Pirate, I’m a Pirate again.”
Stephen Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org