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Melancon, Grilli dominating late innings for Pirates

Melancon, Grilli dominating late innings for Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- A.J. Burnett appeared a lock Friday night to become the first Pirates starter to return to the mound for the eighth inning. Not only had the ace thrown an efficient 96 pitches through seven innings, but he had retired nine of the last 10 hitters he faced, the only interruption an infield single.

But, no, Mark Melancon emerged from the bullpen to pitch the eighth, then handed off to Jason Grilli to finish off the Nationals, 3-1.

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So manager Clint Hurdle was asked whether he could see any scenario in which the Bucs could actually have a pitcher go the route, and avoid this being the first in the team's 126-year history to not have a complete game.

"Certainly," Hurdle said. "There could be days when relievers can use the rest, or the score gives you more cushion."

Otherwise, Hurdle can't be blamed for turning it over to the best eighth and ninth inning combo in the Majors. 

Melancon has 11 holds and has allowed one run in 16 innings, during which he has walked zero and struck out 15.

Grilli is perfect in 12 save opportunities and has allowed one run in 13 innings, during which he has struck out 21 and walked four.

Combine their numbers, and this is what you get: a 0.62 ERA, a .156 opponents' average and 36 strikeouts in 29 innings.

The Bucs may not have expected such perfection from Grilli, but they did have the confidence to give him Joel Hanrahan's old job.

Then there is Melancon, who brought a 6.20 ERA from the Red Sox in the deal for Hanrahan.

"The kid's done a very good job," Hurdle said. "He continues to show up and be very, very effective. His cutter has become a very effective pitch, the fastball's got the best life we've seen yet, and the breaking ball is in play."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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