It’s no secret that the Toronto Blue Jays have pitchers that can get the job done. They feature a solid rotation that many teams in baseball would dream of having. In the bullpen, closer Roberto Osuna is flanked by the emergence of sophomore reliever Joe Biagini, recently signed veteran J.P. Howell, and more. In the middle of this platoon of hurlers, is 40-year old Jason Grilli.
Jason Grilli is one of the most important players on this team. He’s a good veteran pitcher that still shows excitement and intensity when pitching, and coming off the mound, and he’s an important piece to this Toronto Blue Jays club. Additionally, his lifetime of experience is knowledge that everyone can benefit.
Jason Grilli, 40, was born to be a baseball player. The son of former MLB pitcher and Toronto Blue Jay, Steve Grilli, I guess you could say it was genetic. It 1994, he was drafted right out of high school in the 24th round by the New York Yankees. Since then, he has experienced or seen just about everything in his baseball career.
When drafted by the New York Yankees, Jason made the decision not to sign. Instead, he chose to attend Seton Hall University. A decision that could not have been easy for any 18-year old, who dreams of the adventure of being a major league pitcher.
At Seton Hall University was where Jason would spend the next three seasons, a move that would pay off for him. In 1997, while a Junior, he struck out 18 hitters, setting a “Big East” record. he finished his collegiate career with 256 strikeouts in 230.1 innings pitched, including 125 of them in his final season. A wise choice indeed, as he was picked 4th overall by the San Francisco Giants.
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Being a top prospect immediately added to a lot of pressure on a young Jason Grilli. From 1998 to 1999 he continued to develop in the minor leagues, including working as a starter and also in relief. Jason displayed a lot of promise, but his journey within professional baseball was just starting, and would have its ups and downs.
Even though Grilli was a 4th overall draft pick, the Giants shipped him to the Florida Marlins in the middle of the 1999 season as part of a trade to bring Livan Hernandez to San Francisco. He continued his work in the minors before finally being called up by the Marlins in 2000.
In his debut, he gave up 4 earned runs while recording 3 strikeouts, good enough for his first big league win. It would be bittersweet, as he would be sent back to the minors, and spend the rest of the 2000 and 2001 seasons continuing to hone his skills. In 2002, disaster struck as Grilli would miss the entire season to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair his pitching elbow.
Following the 2003 season, Grilli was claimed via the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago White Sox for the 2004 season. Spending just 1 year with the organization, he did see some time at the major league level, however, still spent the majority of the season with Charlotte of the International League. Following the season, he was designated for assignment and released.
Next, he signed a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers in 2005. He spent the majority of his season with their AAA affiliate in Toledo. He contributed to helping the Mud Hens (best name in baseball) to a championship that season while getting the call for some games in Detroit near the end of the season. In 2006, things would start looking up for the Michigan native.
Through spring training with Detroit in 2006, Grilli was able to show enough to earn a spot in the Tigers’ bullpen. He also had the honour of representing Italy at the World Baseball Classic. That year, the Tigers made it all the way to the World Series, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 2007 season was his career best to date, earning a 5-3 record, while recording 62 strikeouts. However, in 2008 he was on the move again, this time in a trade to Colorado. From 2008 through 2011, it would undoubtedly have been a blur for the reliever, being traded first to Colorado, then to Texas in 2009, and signing with Cleveland for the 2010 season, and that wasn’t all.
In Cleveland, Grilli would be struck again by disaster. Tearing his quadriceps muscle, forcing him to miss the entire season. Electing free agency after the 2010 season, he signed a minor league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies for the 2011 season. He started the season with the Leigh Valley Iron Pigs of the International League after being assigned by Philadelphia.
However, even though he had a record of 4-1 with a 1.93 earned run average, the Phillies released him mid-season. A day after being released, he was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and spent the rest of the season with the big club finishing 2-1 over 32.2 inning pitched. In 2012, he played in another 64 games for the Pirates, spending the entire season in the majors.
2013 would be a year to remember, as he was named the Pirates’ closer. His performance that year would earn him an All-Star birth, while earning 2 time reliever of the month honours, and gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated. He finished the season with 32 saves, even though he had suffered a season threatening injury to his forearm, mid-way through the year.
In June of 2014, Grilli was traded once again to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Following the season, he signed a 2 year deal with the Atlanta Braves. He was delivered with 24 saves for the Braves prior to the All-Star break, but the injury bug bit him once again when he ruptured his Achilles, finishing him for the rest of the season.
In 2016, Grilli was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Sean Ratcliffe. Going 6-4 with 58 strikeouts that season, he performed well with the up and coming team. The Blue Jays were happy to retain his services with a club option for the upcoming 2017 season.
Jason Grilli has experienced an immense amount of situations and uncertainties throughout his entire career. The son of a major league pitcher, and also the pressure of being a top prospect, aren’t small hurdles. He’s dealt with injuries, trades, free agency, promotions and demotions. Transitioning from starter to reliever, he’s been to the playoffs, and a World Series. Not to mention 3 stints at the World Baseball Classic, and an All-Star selection.
For young pitchers, Jason is an encyclopedia of information and knowledge. A brain to be picked in the best and worst of times. Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker has to breath a sigh of relief, seeing a player of Jason Grilli’s experience walking into the park every day.
For the young players and pitchers of this Toronto Blue Jay club, playing with Jason Grilli, should be something to embrace, by seizing every opportunity to learn from one of the most experienced pitchers in the game today. His resilience itself, it an example for others to follow.