Grilli fired up, gains confidence in return to hill

Braves righty allows two-run homer, but encouraged in first game since Achilles surgery in July

Grilli fired up, gains confidence in return to hill

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Over the course of the next two weeks, Jason Grilli will have time to refine his command, improve his balance and enhance his arm strength. But for now, the Braves' veteran closer can deservedly take a moment to appreciate the fact that he took another step toward proving his doubters wrong.

Grilli's adrenaline was flowing as he stepped on the mound at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex on Thursday afternoon and pitched in a game for the first time since he was carted off Coors Field with a ruptured left Achilles tendon. Even though the 39-year-old right-hander's one-inning stint in a 5-3 loss to the Astros was blemished by a two-run homer, he walked away with enhanced confidence that he will be ready for Opening Day.

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"It's funny how a lot of things are going on, besides just being on the mound," Grilli said. "I felt good. There are obviously a few adjustments I still need to make. But to be out there [eight months after the injury] ... like I said, I know I am confident I can be ready when I'm called upon."

Grilli plans to make at least six more appearances before the regular season begins. Time will tell whether he will prove to be healthy and effective enough for the Braves to put him back in the closer's role that he capably handled before suffering the gruesome injury. But for now, it does appear that he is making steady progress toward realizing his goal to begin the season in Atlanta's bullpen.

"I was pleased with his performance," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Just getting him out there pitching, it was a plus for us."

Grilli's fastball sat between 91-93 mph, and he showed enough confidence in his curveball to throw two straight with a full count to the first batter he faced -- Luis Valbuena. After just missing the strike zone with the second of those two breaking balls to walk Valbuena, the Braves' veteran paid for the hanging curveball that he threw to Danny Worth, who promptly drilled a two-run homer to left field.

"I'm an adrenaline guy, so I had to calm myself and slow myself down," Grilli said. "Getting ahead of the first hitter, I was geeked up to just punch a ticket there, and I lost him. ... I left a couple pitches fat, but I'm not going to be overly critical of my first outing."

Grilli's stuff against the Astros was far more impressive than when he pitched in a simulated game just six days earlier. During that contest, he struggled mightily to command his curveball and ended up surrendering home runs to Tyler Flowers and 18-year-old No. 7 prospect Austin Riley.

If Grilli can make similar progress over the next two weeks, he might be where he wants to be.

"It's just little things and intangibles, maybe get a little more [arm] extension," Grilli said. "I can tell you the thing I'm thinking about least is my foot. It has everything to do with the game."

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