A manager saving his closer in a tie game on the road backfires again

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Shocking, I know.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle decided against using closer Jason Grilli, one of the best relievers in baseball, as his team battled the Cubs in an 11-inning affair this afternoon. Trailing 3-2 in the ninth, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte tied the game with a solo home run. Hurdle went to Vin Mazzaro in the bottom of the ninth and Bryan Morris in the bottom of the tenth, both recording scoreless innings.

Hurdle could have called on Grilli, but decided to use Morris for a second inning in the eleventh. Morris entered the afternoon with more than half the strikeout rate (17% to 40.5%) and more than double the walk rate (11.5% to 5%). Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano both singled to start the inning, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Catcher Russell Martin made a throwing error throwing behind Rizzo at second base, as Luis Valbuena was attempting to sacrifice bunt to advance both runners. Valbuena was intentionally walked to set up a force out at each base. Dioner Navarro mercifully ended the game quickly, hitting a sacrifice fly to center field to give the Cubs the 4-3 win.

Hurdle is just the latest in a long line of managers who have opted to let their best reliever rot in the bullpen in the hope their team takes a lead rather than actively using him to maintain a tie game. Today, though… today is his.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.