Friday night was exhibit A why the Pittsburgh Pirates are winning and why they may yet post their first season-long winning record in a generation. Beers, or root beers, are on the house for A.J. Burnett, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli.
They combined for a very impressive mound performance in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 victory over the Washington Nationals. Although All-Star teams are not selected based on one-game showings this trio showed what it’s got and what it has been doing since the 2013 season began. It also helps explain why the Pirates were 17-12 entering Saturday’s game and the Nationals, everyone’s pre-season favorite, were 15-15.
Right now Burnett is 3-2 with a 2.57 earned run average. He struck out nine Nationals Friday and leads the National League in strikeouts with 57. The right-hander is 36 and is in his 15th Major League season. He has pitched for the Florida Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, but never has he been as consistently effective as he has been since joining the Pirates last year.
Burnett once finished 18-10 for Toronto and led the American League in strikeouts, but his ERA was so-so that season. Otherwise he has been doing his best pitching as he ages. The Pirates had to be classified as optimists when they signed Burnett before the 2012 season. He was coming off two straight years with the Yankees when his ERA was above 5.00.
Last year he finished 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA, scoring genius points for Pirates management. Everyone wondered if Burnett could possibly keep it up, but he has for the first month of this season.
The rest of that Friday pitching lineup owes its appearance to Joel Hanrahan. Some people thought Pittsburgh was nuts to trade Hanrahan to the Red Sox last December. He was an All-Star closer. One of the players who joined the Pirates in that multi-player trade was reliever Mark Melancon. Anyone who watched Melancon pitch last summer could easily have been persuaded that he would be starting this season in AA if he was even still in baseball.
Melancon had a worse year than Lindsay Lohan. At one point early last year Melancon’s earned run average threatened to eclipse the Boston Celtics’ team scoring average. That’s when he was exiled to the minors. But even when he returned to the majors Melancon didn’t do much for the Red Sox, finishing with a 6.20 ERA.
Boston had to be happy to find any taker for Melancon. Yet he woke up from his nightmare 2012 and through Friday he is sporting an ERA of 0.56 with 11 holds as a middle reliever. And wouldn’t you know it, Hanrahan has been having difficulties in Boston Score one for the Pirates.
Especially since they have shown they don’t need Hanrahan. Grilli is the new closer. He’s been great so far, particularly since he has never been a closer before. Grilli, like Burnett, is 36. before this season he had five career saves and a 4.24 ERA. Counting playing for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, Grilli has appeared in more cities than the road company of “A Chorus Line.”
But just as the dancers in that show dream about making it big, he has hit the jackpot this year. Grilli owns an ERA of 0.69 and has 12 saves already.
If Burnett, Melancon, and Grilli, and a few more of their compatriots playing well, can keep it up perhaps the Pirates can record their first above-.500 season since 1992.