Braves trade Jason Grilli to Blue Jays for prospect
ATLANTA — The Braves’ stable of arms has gotten even younger, as they sent their oldest pitcher, Jason Grilli, to the Blue Jays.
Atlanta shipped the 39-year-old reliever north Tuesday in exchange for right-handed pitching prospect Sean Ratcliffe.
"We want to go with young pitching," said Braves general manager John Coppolella. "What we’ve tried to do in a year like this is find out what we have with the young arms that we have here."
The Braves are already the majors’ leaders with 278 2/3 innings pitched by players 25 or younger, with the Phillies second with 195 1/3. This leaves Alexi Ogando, 32, as the senior-most Atlanta pitcher.
Grilli, returned this season from an Achilles injury, and the righty struggled overall with a 5.29 ERA and 23 strikeouts to 13 walks in 17 innings.
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He’s seen his average fastball velocity dip to 91.8 mph — down from 93.9 — and his ground ball rate sits at 18.6 — that figure was at 27.1 in 2015.
Initially signed in 2015 as a setup man for Craig Kimbrel, Grilli stepped into the shoes of the franchise’s all-time saves leader and was strong, with a 2.94 ERA in 33 2/3 innings and had 24 saves. But his season ended July 11 when he injured his Achilles while covering first base against the Rockies.
Given the early opportunity to reclaim that closer role this season, Grilli converted on two of his three save chances. But the 14-year pro has given way to Arodys Vizcaino, who is responsible for six of Atlanta’s nine saves, and is 14 years younger.
"It was a chance for us to find a good home for Jason, and also keep trying to add in young arms that are homegrown through our Brave farm system," Coppolella said.
The Braves bullpen is set to return Jim Johnson — the 32-year-old has been on the disabled list since May 10 with a right groin strain — on Friday, and Shae Simmons, 25, is expected back soon as he continues his rehab from Tommy John surgery.
Grilli was an All-Star in 2013 with the Pirates, and the Blue Jays will mark the ninth team of his career. He’s due less than $2.5 million this season — which the Braves are said to be paying all but about $600,000 of — and has a $3 million club option for 2017 with a $250,000 buyout.
He’s joining a Toronto bullpen that is 16th in the majors with a 3.89 ERA and has allowed 41 percent of inherited runners to scores (28th). Atlanta is 25th (4.48 ERA) and 22nd (34 percent), respectively, in those departments.
In return for the veteran, the Braves receive a 6-foot-4, 21-year-old Canadian in Ratcliffe who has yet to make it past Low-A ball. Taken in the 18th round in the 2013 draft, he posted a 3.60 ERA over 40 innings in 22 games for the Northwest League’s Vancouver Canadiens.
A converted catcher, he’s said to have a fastball in the 90-93 mph range. Ratcliffe has yet to pitch at all in 2016 as he’s been in the Blue Jays’ extended spring program. The Braves will do the same so they can evaluate him before deciding at what level to assign Ratcliffe to.
"We had seen him two weeks back with our scouts and someone saw him and thought he could help the Braves organization," Coppolella said.
With Grilli gone, the Braves recalled right-handed pitcher Ryan Weber from Triple-A Gwinnett. The 25-year-old made three relief appearances in his first stint in the majors this season, posting a 10.57 ERA in 7 2/3 innings.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ is out now, and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners’ will be released Nov. 1, 2016.