Roster Moves

Grilli Gave the Jays Three Thrilling Months, But Ran Out of Gas

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When Jason Grilli arrived in Toronto on May 31st of last year, the Blue Jays’ bullpen was in shambles. Drew Storen was struggling, Jesse Chavez and Gavin Floyd couldn’t find their footing, and the relief corp could be categorized as Roberto Osuna and “everybody else”.

So the Blue Jays’ front office went ahead and made a change. They acquired wily veteran reliever Jason Grilli from the Atlanta Braves for prospect Sean Ratcliffe.

Grilli struggled out of the gate with the Braves, but the Jays opted to take a flier on him and probably figured a change of scenery would do Grilli some good. The phrase “why not?” entered my mind when I initially learned of the trade because at that point, anything was an improvement.



The Jays guessed correctly. Although Grilli came to Toronto with a 5.29 ERA in 21 appearances with the Braves, he immediately turned his season around and thrust himself into the Blue Jays’ setup role. Grilli was a revelation in a Blue Jays uniform and a godsend for a ravaged bullpen.

He gave the Blue Jays three thrilling months, but Grilli ultimately ran out of gas.

Many will look to Grilli’s 2017 as his slow descent towards the end of his tenure, but it actually began last September with the Blue Jays. Grilli’s June, July and August were electric, but his struggles began in September of 2016 and he never recovered.
 

Jason Grilli (Jun 2016 - Jun 2017)

MonthIPH2B3BRERHRBBSOAVGOBPSLGERAw OBA
Jun 20179.29103315170.2430.3330.3612.800.306
Jul 2017102002223130.0670.1760.2671.800.201
Aug 2017135012214170.1190.1960.2381.380.195
Sept/Oct 20179.11232101047110.2930.3960.7759.640.467
Mar/Apr 20178.28207736100.2350.3500.5597.270.380
May 20178.110306523100.2780.3330.5285.40.362
Jun 20173.2610444030.3750.3751.1889.820.626

The writing was on the wall for Grilli when he only made five appearances over the span of the Blue Jays’ last 18 games. Most of those situations were low-leverage, but the final one being the last nail in the coffin from the Blue Jays 5-4 collapse in Kansas City last Friday.

It was a fun ride there for a while with Grilli, but the time had come for him to be taken off the Blue Jays roster. When he couldn’t even pitch his way out of low leverage situations or be entrusted to get one final out, that’s when it was time to cut Grilli loose.

It’s just an everyday transaction, but I kind of feel bad for the guy. Here’s someone who was genuinely happy to be in Toronto; the Blue Jays were his favourite team growing up, which is something you almost never hear from someone who grew up outside of Canada.

For three exciting months last summer, Grilli was the Blue Jays’ rockstar reliever. His fist pumps, glove slaps and screams into the air turned Grilli into a fan favourite in Toronto.

He was someone who was very aware of his place on the team and never seemed to take anything for granted with the Blue Jays. Earlier this year while the Jays were in the midst of their worst stretch of the season, Grilli told reporters “losing only makes you appreciate winning”.

For three exciting months last summer, Grilli was the Blue Jays' rockstar reliever. His fist pumps, glove slaps and screams into the air turned Grilli into a fan favourite in Toronto.Click To Tweet

Grilli saw the Blue Jays as one of his last chances for glory. For a while there, he was as reliable as anyone in the Blue Jays bullpen. But as often happens with relievers – especially ones in their fourties – they flame out just as quickly as they blaze up the ranks.



Although he’s a one-inning pitcher, it makes one wonder where that 2016 Blue Jays team would’ve been if not for the contributions from Jason Grilli. Considering the Jays just barely squeaked into the Wild Card game, it’s probably safe to say they may not have gotten that far if not for the contributions from Grilli.

Ultimately, Grilli couldn’t get the job done anymore, so the organization had to cut ties with the 15-year veteran.

The reason why it feels like a bit of a gut punch is Grilli poured his heart and soul into this team. He was only in a Blue Jays uniform for a little over a year, but he quickly became a fixture on the roster; an elder statesman in the bullpen, a father-figure to his teammates and a consummate cheerleader.

And he did it all until the very end, leaving his teammates with this inspiring message:


 

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez “mine” incident. He’ll also retell the story of Game 5 of the ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

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