Closers Prove to be Difference in Series Between Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates

By Kenneth Teape
Francisco Rodriguez Brewers
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers continued to show that their early season success is no fluke, as they defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 in 14 innings. The early part of the game was overshadowed by the bench-clearing incident in the third inning, which saw Carlos Gomez and Travis Snider both ejected for throwing punches. The remainder of the game was dominated by outstanding pitching. Today’s game showed that the Brewers and Pirates are heading in opposite directions for end of game situations.

Coming into the season the Brewers were not expected to make much noise, but they have surprised many people with an outstanding 14-5 start. One reason is the domination of Francisco Rodriguez at the end of games.

K-Rod came in and closed the door once again this evening, saving his seventh game of the season, or half of the Brewers’ wins thus far. Rodriguez’s stats this season are elite; he has yet to allow a run in 10 innings, striking out 15 batters and allowing only six base runners, four by hits and two by walks.

Coming into the season Rodriguez was expected to be the setup man, as Jim Henderson was thought to be the closer coming into the season. After a strong spring training, Rodriguez took control of the closer’s job and has run with it. Henderson hasn’t looked much better in the regular season, having a 4.70 ERA thus far, as Rodriguez looks to have a stranglehold on the closer spot.

On the other hand, the Pirates have to be a little worried with their late inning situation. After a dominant 2013, Jason Grilli has struggled in the early season in 2014. Grilli blew the save today, the second consecutive day he has done so. To put in perspective how surprising that is, Grilli had only two blown saves last season in 54 appearances; this season he already has three in eight appearances.

Grilli’s struggles this season are something the Pirates cannot afford to have. With a team that struggles more often than not to score, having a lights out reliever at the end of the game is a necessity. Grilli still has time to get things figured out, but the Pirates cannot wait too much longer for him to do so.

Luckily for the Pirates, they have a capable option to relieve Grilli if need be. Mark Melancon has experience closing games, doing it for the Pirates last season when Grilli was forced to the DL and with the Houston Astros in 2011.

Thus far this season, the Brewers have been successful because when they hand the ball to Rodriguez, he has gotten the job done. Their hot start to the season would have been less stellar had Rodriguez not been dealing.

For the Pirates, Grilli’s struggles have cost them a series win over a division rival. It is still only the third week of the season, but falling into a hole early in the season is never an easy thing to climb out of, as the Brewers’ and Pirates’ end of game pitching situations look to be trending in opposite directions.

Kenneth Teape is a New York Giants writer for You can follow him on Twitter @teapester725, “Like” him on Facebook, or join his network on Google

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