Q&A: Notre Dame Head Coach Paul Mainieri

We caught up with Notre Dame head baseball coach Paul Mainieri for a special insight into the Cubs' top draft pick in 2004: RHP, Grant Johnson. Inside, Coach Mainieri answers questions concerning Johnson's health, work ethic, game day emotions, and much, much more.

Q: Grant Johnson spent three years playing for your Notre Dame teams. How would you describe him as a pitcher?

A: He is definitely a power pitcher. He features a fastball/slider with the occasional changeup.

Q: What would you say was his proudest moment with the Irish?

A: Probably when he beat Florida State in his freshman year in the first game of the Super Regional. Florida State was ranked #1 in the country and had won 25 games in a row, and this northern team went down to Tallahassee and beat them in the opening game, which is the best two of three with the winner going on to the College World Series. That set the tone for the weekend, and we ended up winning game three and clinched our first spot in the College World Series since 1957.

Q: If there's one person in the major leagues right now that you could compare him to, who would it be?

A: Well, I would compare him to a kid that played for us a couple of years ago actually in Aaron Heilman. Aaron pitched in the big leagues last year with the New York Mets, but is now in AAA. Grant probably throws harder than Aaron, but their sliders are very comparable. Grant is a big strong guy with a low three-quarters delivery. He has everything it takes to be a great pitcher for the Cubs.

Q: What are some other similarities or differences in the two: Grant and Heilman?

A: They both have the same build. They're both tall, 6'5", about 220 pounds. They have pretty much that same delivery, from that low three-quarters style. Grant has a really good sinking, moving fastball that he can throw regularly at 93-94 mph, and he also throws a nice slider off of that pitch. He's a real competitor; a bulldog on the mound. He pitches with a lot of emotion, much like Carlos Zambrano. Grant is a very emotional guy and a very clutch pitcher. He's a very bright kid, too. I think he had a 3.98 GPA in his last semester here, and he's two semesters away from graduating from Notre Dame. So he's an intelligent kid. He's got great ability and he's got a great, great temperament on the mound.

Q: How is Grant doing now after the surgery last year, and how did the injury come about?

A: I'm not really sure when the injury actually happened. When he left us at the end of his freshman year, he went to play for Team USA during the summer. When he came back in the fall, about the second time he threw, his shoulder started bothering him. So he ended up having surgery on it. He had a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and had surgery right around the first of the year and missed all of his sophomore season. This year, he came back and we just brought him along slowly. And toward the end of the year, he started to extend his pitch count.

Q: Heading into the draft, did you perceive him as a second round pick?

A: I expected him to go even higher. So I think the Cubs got a steal. It was a great draft by the Cubs.

Q: How would you describe Grant's work ethic?

A: He's a very dedicated pitcher. Nobody outworks him. He's got a lot of pride and wants to be the best that he can be.

Q: I understand you and Jim Hendry are close friends?

A: Yes, the general manager is my best friend. Jim and I coached high school baseball together way back in the early 80's in Miami. Jim is the most honest person in all of professional baseball. He's very straight forward and he's going to tell you exactly what he thinks. Whatever he says, you can take it to the bank. I'm sure that with the negotiations with the Johnson family, Jim is going to be very honest and forthright. The Johnson's are exactly those kinds of people and they'll appreciate that.

Q: What impressed you the most about Grant?

A: Well he's just a great young man in every aspect really. He's very trustworthy and works very hard. He's a great competitor. He's got the ability, so there's nothing not to like, believe me.

Q: Two years ago, he pitched against one of the Cubs' top pitching prospects, Bobby Brownlie, at Rutgers. I understand that was also a very proud moment for Grant.

A: He beat Rutgers and Brownlie, 1-0, with a complete game performance. That was really one of his best games, but he's had a lot of great games. I think his ERA was under 2.00. He pitched well just about every time out this year.

Q: Do you consider Grant to be more of a ground ball, fly ball, or strikeout pitcher?

A: He's capable of getting a lot of strikeouts, but he gets a lot of ground balls because of the sinking action on his fastball.

Q: Could you describe the sinker for us?

A: Yeah, it's a two-seem fastball basically. It just runs in on right-handed hitters and runs away on left-handed hitters.

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