After a relatively solid spring, Grilli had allowed five runs on seven hits over two innings in his previous two performances before entering Friday to start the fifth inning. He wasn't off to a promising start after hitting Carlos Quentin with a 2-2 pitch and walking Orlando Cabrera to put two men on with one out. From there, he retired eight of the next nine batters, with the exception being a two-out walk to Paul Konerko that loaded the bases.
The difference on Friday, compared to other outings, was his slider, which he spotted at the knees for strikes. Grilli caught Jim Thome looking at one for a called third strike that led to Thome's ejection, then later sent down Juan Uribe swinging at another. Grilli used it to set up Quentin looking at a fastball on the outside corner for a called third strike and the second out of the seventh.
"My slider wasn't working when I was getting hit," Grilli said. "To get ahead to [Kevin] Youkilis and [Julio] Lugo [Thursday in Boston] and even [Kansas City's] John Buck my first game of the season, I knew what I wanted to do. I wasn't executing."
With the Tigers' bullpen lacking defined roles besides closer Todd Jones and eighth-inning setup man Denny Bautista, there are opportunities to be earned for those who execute. At this point, though, Leyland simply wants to see Grilli work off some success and watch how he reacts.
"Hopefully that'll get him going," Leyland said, "because he's got too good stuff not to pitch good. Jason Grilli's got good stuff, no question about it. He's got too good stuff to not pitch well, and I'm not talking about every single time out. Nobody pitches great every time out, but he gave us a big lift, and he should've given himself a big lift.
"That should be a big plus for him and a nice little step forward to keep the confidence going a little bit. That's what you're hoping for. It's kind of a wait and see."
Grilli suggested it was a morale boost for the whole team, not just him. But he also saw the point, admitting to pressing early on while working with little more than his fastball.
"It's almost like I can let out some air here and blow off some steam," Grilli said. "I haven't had the best of starts in my last two seasons, but I think I've shown that I can get in a little bit of a groove and I'm OK. I think a lot of people can be like that."