Pirates replace Grilli with Melancon at closer
Lefty Watson also likely to get opportunities in role, says Hurdle
CHICAGO -- Jason Grilli was removed from his closer role by the Pirates on Friday, the day after blowing his fourth save of the season -- doubling his blown saves of 2013.
Mark Melancon inherited the back end of the bullpen, with manager Clint Hurdle suggesting that lefty Tony Watson might get cracks at the 27th out.
"There comes a point where we're all best served by getting [Grilli] out of the hub," Hurdle said. "We'll give Jason the opportunity to get in a few outings ... when we're behind. He can't wait to get out there and work on a couple of things."
"I'm in a little bit of a slump. I'll work through it. It's nothing I can't overcome," Grilli said. "If I can't overcome this, might as well go do something else. We've got plenty of guys who can help me out now, help me get back to where I need to be."
The main guy for that is Melancon, who has substantial closing experience in three of the last four seasons, with Houston in 2011 and with the Bucs in '13 and this year.
Melancon has converted 26 of 34 save opportunities for the Pirates when subbing for Grilli. However, his previous closing stints came when Grilli was disabled -- by a strained right forearm last season and a strained left oblique earlier this season.
"We're very confident of what Mark can do. There could also be an opportunity for Watson. Right now, it's not working for Jason; he's human," Hurdle said.
As a first-time closer at 36, Grilli converted 33 of 35 opportunities in 2013, when he had 74 strikeouts in 50 innings and allowed four home runs. In 18 2/3 innings this season, he has 17 strikeouts and has allowed four home runs.
By stark contrast, Melancon has given up a total of two home runs in 107 regular-season appearances with Pittsburgh. He went more than a calendar year between them -- from April 14, 2013 (the Reds' Joey Votto) to this May 26 (the Mets' Lucas Duda).
• Neil Walker (appendectomy) had quite a comprehensive simulated game workout Friday morning at Wrigley Field: Four at-bats (two from each side), ground balls, regular batting practice, baserunning. Everything felt good.
Hurdle: "They always say they feel good. That's all part of the rehab."
• The Pirates entered this series having dropped only one of the last nine sets they have played at Wrigley Field, since the start of the 2011 season.
First number, last word
4-0: The Pirates' record in the opening games of their last four series on the road, entering Friday afternoon's game at Wrigley Field.
"I'm blessed to watch those three run around in the outfield, three guys whose best position is center field. I believe they will posse up, over time, and be an incredibly good unit." -- Hurdle on, left to right, the Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco triumvirate
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.