All good things must come to an end. Jason Grilli has been a good thing for the Pirates so far this year, but he was pretty unlikely to be perfect in save situations all year. And last night he blew his first save of the year.
Granted, it wasn’t an easy save. The Pirates led 1-0 entering the ninth inning thanks to seven shutout innings from Jeff Locke and one from Mark Melancon. Grilli was called in to lock it down against the Reds’ 4-5-6 hitters. He retired Brandon Phillips on a liner but then Jay Bruce swung at the first pitch he saw from Grilli and deposited it over the right field fence. Way over, actually, as it went out on a line and got out in a hurry. It was measured as a 425-foot blast.
Bruce, by the way, had taken a homer away from Andrew McCutchen in the seventh, making a leaping grab at the wall, so he had himself a day.
The Reds went on to win in 13. And, as all closers do, Grilli will have to shake it off and be ready again this afternoon. It’ll be a new thing for him, but I figure he’s up to it.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.