Having pitched 3.2 scoreless innings in the 2016 AL postseason with three strikeouts and just one hit allowed, Blue Jays setup man Jason Grilli was worth his weight his gold. Toronto exercised its option to pick up the 40-year-old Italian American’s $3-million contract option for 2017. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins called the reliever’s option “as near to a no-brainer to pick up as you can get.” After being acquired on May 31, Grilli appeared in 46 games during which he had 58 K’s in 42 innings with two saves and 21 holds.
Grilli is synonymous with Team Italia since he is the only active player to participate in all three World Baseball Classics since its start in 2006–when he pitched a one-hitter with seven K’s to earn Italia’s first win over Australia. Now serving as Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri’s official closer, Jason is proud of his role and his Italian heritage. “You know, they say the more you hang around Italians, the more Italian you become,” said Grilli. “And that’s what I am. I’m an Italian. I’m a relief pitcher for the Italians.”
Just ask former Jays manager Cito Gaston about the current team’s roster, which now boasts veteran Italian American pitcher Jason Grillias their reliable setup man. Just two games out of first in the American League East Division, the Blue Jays would like nothing more than ending the 23-year-old drought by bringing a World Series title back home to Toronto. Gaston said, “I think they have the team to win it. It’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be fun for this city to watch.” Since being traded on May 31st from the Atlanta Braves, Jason Grilli has provided the necessary leadership to propel current Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons’ team to the top.
The trade that brought Grilli north of the border probably would have never taken place without a little help from Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, who encouraged the front office to take action and served as catcher for Grilli while with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 when Jason earned a nod to the National League All-Star squad. Like a fine Italian wine getting better with time, Grilli saved 33 games and posted a 2.70 ERA with 74 strikeouts to just 13 walks for the Pirates that year. His accolades grew larger in 2014 when the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame honored Pirates closer Jason Grilli as the “Man of the Year”. Jays General Manager Ross Atkins cited Martin’s endorsement of Grilli as being a factor in bringing him to Toronto.
Martin admitted Grilli is now getting by more on craft and guile than power. “His arm is still electric. There’s still some bullets in that thing,” Russell said. “He’s got that fastball that guys like to swing at when it’s up in the zone. He knows how to disrupt timing with the slide-step, how to elevate the fastball. And he’s got a really tight slider — one of the best that I’ve caught.” Jason has made fifteen appearances for Toronto, tossing 13.2 innings, allowing ten hits and six walks while striking out 23. Grilli has also notched four holds since joining the Blue Jays.
After Grilli was traded to the Angels from the Pirates in 2014, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said: “I know this about Jason. Every time a new opportunity has come to him, he has been able to find another gear.” Based on his performance for the past six weeks, Jason has indeed found a new lease on life in Toronto–thanks in part to the recruitment efforts of Canadian-born Russell Martin, who would love matching World Series rings. “I thanked him and up down,” Grilli said of Martin. “I told him I knew he had something to do with me being over here.”