Grilli confident he'll be ready to close by opener

Rehabbing ruptured Achilles tendon, reliever, 39, has overcome worse in career

Grilli confident he'll be ready to close by opener

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jason Grilli understands that there will be some who will doubt his ability to effectively return from a ruptured Achilles tendon at 39 years old. At the same time, he is strengthened by the belief that his cruel injury history has previously positioned him to overcome far greater challenges.

"This was child's play in comparison to the knee," Grilli said in reference to a gruesome injury suffered before the 2010 season. "They told me I wasn't going to walk again with my knee. So, with the Achilles, there are still some precautions you take, just like you do with your arm. I'm just coming in here and I've got six weeks to get ready."

As Grilli has spent the past few weeks running and throwing off a mound with no complications, he has gained even more confidence that he will reclaim his role as the Braves' closer by the time Spring Training ends. But as the grizzled veteran prepares for yet another season, he will patiently take advantage of the fact that he has plenty of time to complete his recovery in a proper manner.

When Grilli arrived in Braves camp on Friday, he revealed that he has thrown off a mound four times, which is approximately half the amount of times he would have done so under normal circumstances. But this certainly does not mean he won't be able to make up for lost time over the next couple of weeks.

While he served as the Braves' closer, a healthy and much younger Craig Kimbrel occasionally eased his way into camp with the understanding he didn't necessarily need to go at 100 percent for six weeks to be prepared for the one-inning assignments that awaited him when the regular season began.

"I'm just being smart," Grilli said. "At 39, I know how to get ready. I also know how to get healthy. Injuries are not something that scare me."

Grilli persevered as he spent three seasons in the Minors after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in 2002. The veteran reliever earned a firm spot at the big league level from 2006-09, but then suffered the gruesome knee injury that sidelined him throughout 2010 and forced him to spend a portion of '11 stuck at the Triple-A level with the Phillies. He then revived his career with the Pirates and gained an All-Star selection in 2013.

On his way to posting a 2.94 ERA and converting 24 of 26 save opportunities last year, Grilli began battling Achilles discomfort near the end of May. Approximately six weeks later, as he ran to cover first base during a July 11 game at Coors Field, the tendon ruptured, causing him to fall in an agonizing manner that cast doubt about his future.

"People can say what they want," Grilli said. "My track record is my track record and my character is my character. People know what they're going to get. I've been around long enough to know."

Grilli spent some time during the offseason conversing with Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, who suffered an Achilles injury in April and then returned to serve as a reliever during the regular season's final week and the National League Division Series against the Cubs.

"He was kind of a big help, just making sure that I knew what to expect," Grilli said. "We're both doing all right."

Though the Braves have the option to use either Arodys Vizcaino or Jim Johnson as their closer, Grilli firmly expects that the role will be his once the regular season arrives.

"I have no other expectation," Grilli said. "I'm going to go out there and pitch. If they see something different, that is their prerogative."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.