With Toronto’s relievers scuffling in late May, Ross Atkins pulled the trigger on a deal that dispatched Canadian-born minor leaguer Sean Ratcliffe to Atlanta in exchange for a needed breath of fresh air in the bullpen.
Their return came in the form of Jason Grilli, a 39 year old former closer who, similar the Blue Jays relief arms, had also struggled throughout the early stages of 2016.
When he joined Toronto’s pitching staff on June first, Grilli brought with him a pair of losses in addition to an uninspiring ERA of 5.29 and an inflated WHIP of 1.706 on the year.
At first glance, the move left many of those who follow this team scratching their heads in search of an explanation. But, outside of the improved metrics Grilli had posted in the weeks that led up to the deal, there were other reasons that compelled the Blue Jays brass to look outside of the organization for added reinforcements.
Anchored by 22 year-old closer Roberto Osuna, Toronto’s relief staff had been responsible for 14 of the teams 28 losses on the season prior to Grilli’s arrival. Although they had demonstrated the firepower needed to go toe to toe with some of the stronger bullpens in the American League, what they lacked as a unit were a pair of qualities that can’t be tracked on a stat sheet.
Despite a bullpen that, at the time, featured a trio of veterans in Jesse Chavez, Drew Storen and Gavin Floyd, the group was still in search of the type of experience and leadership that an established hurler like Grilli could afford an organization.
Having spent parts of 13 seasons at the MLB level since breaking in with the Marlins in 2000, the former first round draft pick (1997) has witnessed a little bit of everything over his lengthy career in the Show.
As of Friday, he’s pitched in 528 games with nine separate organizations throughout his major league career. Over that stretch, he’s appeared in an All-Star Game, six postseason series and one Fall Classic.
Reunited with his former Pirates battery mate Russell Martin, Grilli instantly became the eighth inning bridge to Osuna and a rock in the Blue Jays pen.
Over 25 appearances with the Blue Jays, the native of Royal Oak, MI has pitched to an ERA of 1.90 while allowing three home runs, eight walks and a WHIP of 0.845 over 23 and a third innings of work.
Coming into this weekend’s series opener against Houston, Toronto’s setup man has held opposing hitters to a cumulative batting average of .087 over his last 15 appearances. He’s also struck out at least one batter in 21 of his last 23 games.
In a career full of achievements, there is still one item in which Grilli would like to check off his list before hanging them up.
Having been part of the dominant Detroit Tigers squad that fell victim to David Eckstien and a streaky St. Louis club in 2006 World Series, he’d like to get back there again and finish the job.
With Toronto, a club that his father pitched for in the 70’s and the team he grew up watching as a child, Grilli’s put himself in a position to do exactly that.
And he’s done so one exuberant fist pump at a time.
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