Pirates closer Jason Grilli on track to return Saturday

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From Bill Brink at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette …

Jason Grilli threw another 20-pitch simulated game and said he felt good.

“I would venture a guess that Saturday would be a real strong likely case that I would be out there,” Grilli said.

It was important for Grilli to face major league hitters rather than minor league competition. He said he does not need a rehab assignment.

Grilli has been on the disabled list since April 21 because of a left oblique strain. Mark Melancon has done an admirable job as the Pirates’ fill-in closer over the past four weeks but will presumably slide back into a setup role by early next week.

Grilli has a 2.83 ERA and 40 saves in 149 1/3 innings since joining the Bucs in 2011.

Japanese Baseball to begin June 19

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Japanese League commissioner Atsushi Saito announced that Japan’s professional baseball season will open on June 19. Teams can being practice games on June 2. There will be no fans. Indeed, the league has not yet even begun to seriously discuss a plan for fans to begin attending games, though that may happen eventually.

The season will begin three months after its originally scheduled opening day of March 20. It will be 120 games long. Teams in each six-team league — the Central League and Pacific League — will play 24 games against each league opponent. There will be no interleague play and no all-star game.

The announcement came in the wake of a national state of emergency being lifted for both Tokyo and the island of Hokkaido. The rest of the country emerged from the state of emergency earlier this month. This will allow the Japanese leagues to follow leagues in South Korea and Taiwan which have been playing for several weeks.

In the United States, Major League Baseball is hoping to resume spring training in mid June before launching a shortened regular season in early July. That plan is contingent on the league and the players’ union coming to an agreement on both financial arrangements and safety protocols for a 2020 season. Negotiations on both are ongoing. Major League Baseball will, reportedly, make a formal proposal about player compensation tomorrow.