Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lesson Hopefully Learned: Grilli Can't Let Fans Get To Him In 2008

New York has been known to swallow players whole. Some just can't handle the fish bowl, mainly because in New York, sometimes they reach into the fish bowl and dangle you, as you gasp for oxygen.

Ed Whitson comes to mind. The Yankees signed the 29-year-old righthander before the 1985 season, from the San Diego Padres. But things eventually got so bad for Whitson, totally vilified by the ravenous Yankees fans, that he was no longer deemed fit to start home games. He was gone by early 1986 -- literally driven out of town by the paying customers.

Jason Grilli flirted with a minor degree of Ed Whitson Disease last season in Detroit.

His ERA was curiously far higher at Comerica Park -- supposedly a pitcher's ballpark -- than on the road. He blew leads at home. He functioned as a gas can for opponents' rallies. And the more it went on, the more personal it got. The boobirds came out. Grilli's entrance to a game at CoPa was distinguishable -- even if you were in the washroom -- because of the distinct sounds of catcalls and epithets being hurled his way from the denizens.

Then Grilli got the gas can out again -- this time off the field. He went public with his feelings, and took the rancor to a higher, more personal level. He committed the cardinal sin of the harrassed ballplayer: giving his enemies even more fodder for their cannons.

It was wondered if Jason Grilli would ever be able to competently pitch again at Comerica Park -- as a member of the Tigers.

Grilli didn't always find the home white uniforms friendly in 2007

Things got better in the season's second half. Grilli pitched more like the guy who was a steady rock in the Tigers' bullpen in 2006. And, to be fair, it wasn't like he was the only relief pitcher who could be judged as a guilty party. The entire bullpen, just about, fell off from its 2006 pace -- a big reason why the Tigers watched October baseball at home.

Yet Grilli became the poster child for the bullpen's nonsense during the latter part of the season's first half. And he didn't handle it perfectly.

Now, Grilli is among a quartet of pitchers that manager Jim Leyland hopes can do, as a "committee" -- that lovely baseball word for when you don't have a stud -- what Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya cannot do while their elbows and shoulders and heads recover from injury.

Grilli, fellow righthander Zach Miner, and lefties Tim Byrdak and Bobby Seay make up the quartet. Each pitched well at times in 2007. Seay was maybe the most consistent. So it's essential that each of them is squared away between the ears when the season begins.

Grilli, for his part, has already gone on record in defense of the bullpen -- himself included -- maintaining that the team will be just fine with the non-starting arms that the Tigers plan to employ. I hope he's right.

I also hope that he learned his lesson from last season. As bad as the treatment was that he received from the fans last year, it could have been far worse -- if his slump continued, or if he kept opening his yapper about the boobirds. Fortunately, neither happened, and things died down.

Very unlike what happened to Ed Whitson in New York in 1985.


Post a Comment

<< Home