TORONTO – If you’ve ever seen Jason Grilli pitch then you know he thrives on emotion. The bigger the moment, the greater the pressure, the higher the intensity, the more he likes it.
Having spent the majority of the past three seasons as a closer, compiling 69 saves in 78 chances, it should come as no surprise that those are the moments he thrives on.
“I live on that,” Grilli said Wednesday prior to the Blue Jays’ 7-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre. “I’m an adrenaline junkie. I like performing in big situations.”
So when he made the move to Toronto thanks to a May 31st trade with Atlanta, and after Blue Jays manager John Gibbons promptly promoted him to the club’s setup man behind closer Roberto Osuna, it seemed to be the perfect fit for the 39-year-old’s intensity fuelled pitching prowess. Especially considering the games he would be seen in jumped immensely in pressure and importance after moving from the bottom-feeding Braves to an AL East division contender.
“The (Braves situation) was hard for me,” Grilli said. “I came back to win. My will to win parallels why I wanted to come back. I play, not for my salary, but I play to win. The people that know me, they see that passion out there, that’s what I’m about, and I try to bring that to the table every time I get the ball.”
“I play, not for my salary, but I play to win. The people that know me, they see that passion out there, that’s what I’m about, and I try to bring that to the table every time I get the ball.”
The passion is definitely there. The emotion reminiscent of his time as a closer finishing out big games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. But it’s his desire to win that has helped make the transition to Toronto a seamless one.
He quickly found a place in the Jays’ clubhouse in large part because the club’s desire of winning a World Series championship coincided with his own. As soon as he arrived he made it apparent he was fully on board with the Jays’ mission statement.
“You got to have that taste in your mouth,” Grilli said of the team’s aspirations of repeating last year’s success and wanting to improve on it. “Talking to some of the guys during batting practice that’s the feeling and the energy here. They want to see that again. We want to experience it again.
“I prided myself on just proving to these guys that I’m jumping on the bandwagon.”
What made it easier for the Royal Oak, Michigan native was putting aside his personal goals and focusing solely on the team’s success.
“There’s a lot of superstars around here that have been pretty damn good players in their own right,” Grilli said. “We can all put a feather in our cap with personal accolades, but the one thing I look at is I want to raise one of those World Series championship banners. I want to have a World Series ring. I want to do the World Series parade. The only way I get to do that is if we all do that, and I’m just one of many.”
He may just be one man on the roster, but his value to the club has been immeasurable since arriving in Toronto.
After another scoreless outing Wednesday, Grilli has a 1.90 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .154 opponent’s batting average against, and a 12.5 SO/9. That’s without even mentioning the stabilizing effect he’s had on the bullpen itself.
In comparison, Grilli had a 5.29 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, .242 BAA, and a 12.2 SO/9 in Atlanta. Admittedly the sample size is small in both cases (17 IP in Atlanta and 23.2 IP in Toronto), but those are drastically different results for the veteran.
Although the passion and heightened emotions in the middle of a pennant race would seem to be exactly what’s fuelled his turnaround, any blanket theory that has been thought of to explain the discrepancy, the veteran isn’t having any of it.
“I always laugh when people dissect my season. Only because … the ‘I’m good now and I was horrible when I was with Atlanta’ (theory is) untrue,” Grilli said. “The skill set never left.
“I want to have a World Series ring. I want to do the World Series parade. The only way I get to do that is if we all do that, and I’m just one of many.”
“Despite what anybody thinks – the will power, the desire, just because I’m with a different team I didn’t need a change of scenery, they weren’t using me in the ‘closer role’ I was in and did very well in. I think people need to do their research before we start cross-sectioning whether I was good or bad. That’s an easy blanket statement in comparison to make.”
Although Grilli is adamant that nothing has changed, his slider has been extremely effective since coming to the Blue Jays, and he’s using it more as a result.
With Toronto Grilli’s slider is moving more than an inch more than his time with Atlanta. He’s averaging 6.93 inches of horizontal movement North of the border compared to 5.91 inches in Georgia.
Grilli’s also getting batters to swing at his slider more, 38.7 % of the time compared to 30 %. But the biggest difference is that his slider is now missing hitter’s bats at a much higher frequency. Entering Wednesday’s game Grilli’s slider was creating a swing and miss at a 56.4% clip – over 20% more than in Atlanta.
Surprisingly, the speed on his slider is only 0.7 MPH more now than with the Braves. The 2013 All-Star didn’t have any reason on why he’s used the slider more now than in Atlanta other than “it’s working.”
Although having fully recovered from a torn Achilles injury that cost him the last half of the 2015 season may be part of the reason for its success in Toronto.
Regardless, the one thing that has never changed since moving to Toronto is his desire to win.
“For me the last quarter turn is the final thing I need to check off that box,” Grilli said. “I’ve been to a World Series and lost, but I want to go to one and win.”
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports