Grimm shines on opening night

Although Justin Grimm tends to fly under the radar in a strong Texas Rangers' farm system, he made headlines on Thursday by striking out 10 in 5.1 innings during his Double-A debut. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 23-year-old hurler after the game.

Justin Grimm began his Double-A career with a bang on Thursday evening, helping lead the Frisco RoughRiders to a four-hit shutout of the Springfield Cardinals.

The 23-year-old, who is entering his second professional season, tossed 5.1 scoreless innings. He yielded two singles, walked one, and struck out 10. Grimm also pounded the zone, throwing 51 of his 74 pitches for strikes.

In the game, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound righty had all three of his pitches working. His fastball sat between 92-95 mph, and he mixed in a swing-and-miss curveball to go along with a number of changeups.

When the Texas Rangers selected Grimm out of the University of Georgia in the fifth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, the velocity and plus breaking ball were evident. But his well above-slot $825,000 signing bonus was mostly based on potential.

Despite flashing above-average stuff with the Bulldogs, Grimm had a cumulative 5.84 earned-run average with 204 hits allowed in 186.1 innings during his three-year collegiate career. His fastball often floated up in the zone and left him far too hittable than he should have been given his advanced stuff.

The Rangers' scouting staff felt that Grimm's college mechanics were fixable and saw the potential for better command with some changes. It was certainly a big factor in the decision to give a relatively raw college arm such a healthy signing bonus.

While at his first fall instructional league in 2010 and working through the regular season last year, Grimm began smoothing out his delivery and eliminating some of the effort––including a head-jerk that pulled his body off-line and kept him from commanding his fastball. While he showed flashes of smooth mechanics and good location last spring, it was inconsistent. But he gradually made improvements throughout the year.

The Virginia native finished his first full season with strong results between Single-A Hickory and High-A Myrtle Beach, posting a 3.39 ERA in 25 starts. Over 140.2 innings, he allowed 129 hits, walked 48, and struck out 127. Near the end of last season, Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman was satisfied with Grimm's mechanical progress.

"He had a tendency––when he got here from Hickory, I know that he had worked on some things," Holman said last summer. "But what I saw from him was at the top of his balance point, he wanted to attack the pitch. What that created was like a bob or a hop in his delivery. You could literally see his head popping up and down.

"So what we've done is transitioned into basically another stage of the delivery. Instead of going or attacking from a balance point, it's learning to balance, prepare, and then throw. What that does is that it creates the head going backwards in more of an arc into the pitch––so he doesn't have that up-and-down factor.

"I think he's doing really, really well with it. He still––for the first couple outings after we implemented it, it still showed up. But it's pretty consistent now."

Grimm's mechanics remained consistently smooth this spring, and it appears to be something that continues to develop. His command has also followed suit, as he does a better job of locating his fastball down in the strike zone––his biggest issue dating back to his college days.

The other focus for Grimm since signing has been the development of a third pitch––his changeup. While the he rarely threw a change in college, he began relying on it heavily late last season in an effort to develop it. That's perhaps one reason that his strikeout numbers dipped in High-A last year. After fanning 54 in 50.1 innings at Hickory, he struck out 73 in 90.1 frames with Myrtle Beach.

Down the stretch in 2011, Grimm was throwing his changeup 20-plus times per start.

"Right now, he is probably pitching a little bit outside the box according to his stuff," Holman said last August. "We're trying to advocate the use of secondary pitches while even or behind in the count situations. We want to get it to where he can learn to command those pitches and not feel the need to have to just challenge or give into a hitter just because he's behind in the count."

Holman said that part of the process is teaching lower-level pitchers to focus more on the development than their numbers and getting immediate results.

"I think it's just getting him to buy into the fact that we're trying to prepare them to pitch in the big leagues––not necessarily getting too concerned with their success in Low-A ball or High-A ball. And I think, and it's a tribute to him, that he gets that. He sees the big picture."

As Grimm explains in the following interview, he threw his low-80s changeup approximately "15 to 18" times during Thursday's start, and he did a good job of mixing it into sequences to keep hitters off-balance. Although the change was a well below-average pitch in spring training last year, it has developed into an average third offering that could still progress more.

But Grimm's bread and butter remains his fastball-curveball combination. They're the two plus pitches that could carry him to the major leagues. While the right-hander was once thought of as a future late-inning relief prospect due to the lack of front-line command or a third offering, he's made encouraging steps in both areas over the last year.

With his development, Grimm is giving himself a chance to stick in a starting role as he climbs the organizational ladder. He appears to have the ceiling of a number three starter in that role, or perhaps a setup ceiling if he ends up in the bullpen.

Regardless of what happens, Thursday's outing was––on the heels of a strong spring training performance––a step in the right direction and a strong start to his Double-A career.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with the hurler after opening night.

Jason Cole: Give me your overall thoughts on tonight's start, your Double-A debut.

Justin Grimm: I was a little nervous at first. But going in, I just told myself to stay calm and don't try to do too much. I made a really good pitch on like the second pitch of the game, and the guy puts it down the line and Ryan Strausborger throws him out. It was kind of huge.

After I struck the next guy out, I just kind of settled in––settled down and went from there. Me and Jose Felix, the catcher––we were on the same page the whole game. It worked out really well. And the bullpen was awesome, to come in and just shut it down to help me get the win, too.

Cole: How big was that for you and the pitching staff in general for the momentum? On opening day, the staff tossed a four-hit shutout with 16 strikeouts.

Grimm: I think it's huge. Being a pitcher, you want to see your first one be a really good one. You want to help the confidence out and not worry about it so much coming out for the second one. You don't want to be working from behind.

Then everybody comes from the bullpen and does really well. It's good to see. It really puts your mind at ease. I know we've got a lot of talent on this staff at the Double-A level. It's just really good to see.

Cole: It was kind of a cool night up there, wasn't it? I know the box score listed it at 51 degrees and windy.

Grimm: Yeah, it was very cold. I was walking to the park, and I had short sleeves on. I was like, ‘Whoops. This probably wasn't a very good idea.' But after I got warmed up, I think the adrenaline was just pumping so hard that I really wasn't even thinking about it.

Cole: Tell me about your stuff tonight. With the 10 strikeouts, I'm assuming you had the curveball working.

Grimm: Yeah, the curveball was working really good. In warmups, I kept bouncing it a lot. And (pitching coach) Jeff Andrews kind of said, ‘Try to throw it to the glove side.' After that, it seemed to stay down in the zone.

It was just one of those things where I just didn't think about it. I just started throwing it in the game and kept throwing it a lot to the back foot of lefties and away from righties. The changeup was good, too––phenomenal. I threw it in the right counts. I didn't mis-pitch with it. So I had all three pitches working for strikes. I think I threw 51 out of 74 for strikes. So I was just attacking the zone and letting everything take care of itself.

Cole: I'm sure you don't know exactly, but approximately how many changeups do you think you threw tonight?

Grimm: I would say around 15 to 18.

Cole: That's about how many you were throwing per start late last year, isn't it?

Grimm: Yeah, maybe a little more last year. Because last year towards the end, we had a couple guys where if you got even or behind, you had to go with something offspeed for a strike. And that changeup was just my go-to. I really think that helped me develop that pitch and the confidence with it.

But as far as my breaking ball last year––other than my last start, it wasn't a pitch that I was locating on a regular basis. I don't know if my focus point was on developing that changeup towards the end or what, but all three pitches looked really good tonight. I was impressed. But I definitely can't just get complacent with it. I've got to keep working and keep grinding.

Cole: Looking back to your college days, did you ever think the changeup would become such a reliable and important pitch for you?

Grimm: I didn't. Honestly, my mindset was that I was going to go to the bullpen and just be a two-pitch guy––a fastball-breaking ball guy. But the more I got to throw it, the more I got confidence with everything.

From college to the pros, my mechanics––I just feel more confident when I'm throwing on the mound. I know I'm going to throw strikes. Obviously not every time you go out there it's going to be perfect for you, but from a mindset standpoint going in, I feel much more confident that I'm going to be able to throw strikes and that I'm not going to run into my own mess.

Cole: Now that the other stuff has come along, how do you like starting? Do you want to stick in that role?

Grimm: Yeah, I've always enjoyed starting. You get on a routine every fifth day. The only downfall of starting, to me, is that if you have a bad one, you've got to wait five days to get back on the bump. But I've always enjoyed starting, and I've always preferred it because I get into my routine. I get prepared mentally and physically.

But I was talking to my agent, and he was like, ‘If you don't get command, you're probably going to the bullpen.' Basically he just laid it out there for me. I kind of had the feeling that it was either develop the changeup and be able to throw it for strikes or head to the bullpen.

I really want to start, but at the end of the day, my goal is to pitch in the big leagues for a long time––not just to make it. So whatever route I have to take, that's the route I'll take.

Cole: When you were drafted, I know the Rangers liked what they saw in your delivery but felt it needed to be ironed out. They saw the ability for you to command the arsenal and develop a changeup after some adjusting. Since you were drafted in 2010, how have your mechanics developed and changed from your college days?

Grimm: In my college days, I was a guy that just jumped at the plate. I had a little bit of a head jerk. I couldn't even tell you where the ball was going until some of the pitching coaches worked with me. I didn't even realize how much my head was jerking.

Then once I got to Hickory and Myrtle Beach, I just kind of slowed things up in a bullpen atmosphere and really concentrated on what I was trying to work on. More and more throughout the year last year, it just all––it was a totally different feel. I was more sitting on my back side. I wasn't going towards the plate until my front foot hit––that type of thing. If I'm concentrating on that, it really seems to get things in-sync.

Cole: I'm trying to remember back to your first instructs. Didn't a big part of noticing that head jerk come from looking at video of yourself?

Grimm: Yeah. That, and a lot of times in my bullpens, I was at 100 percent in my bullpens coming into the Rangers. I think they had the mindset that I was just trying to impress them. But it had nothing to do with that. I knew that they knew that I threw hard. But it was just more how I knew to do it. When I threw my bullpens, it was just all 100 percent––a ‘here it is' type deal. I didn't really concentrate on anything, really. But obviously that changed pretty quick.

Cole: As your mechanics have gradually improved, how much do you feel your fastball command has developed?

Grimm: I think that's the one thing that is the biggest difference now compared to what it was back in college. In college, you can get away with fastball command––with the hitters and everything. But I didn't even really have that. It was more or less trying to throw it over the plate. At times, I'd throw strikes, but they weren't good strikes. I think that has been one of the biggest changes other than my changeup.

Cole: Tell me a little about your breaking ball. It seems like it's more of a hard slurve. I know it resembles a curveball but also has some side-to-side action on it, as well. This spring, it looked like more of a true curveball at times. Do you think it has changed at all?

Grimm: I still see it as a hard slurve. I just think, at times, I get around it too much. And that's when the side-to-side action comes. Especially with this mechanical thing, I try to really stay on top of the ball––through it to the plate. I feel like that has got more of the downward action than it has.

Cole: Like many pitchers who throw a curveball, you can drop it over a bit softer early in the count and throw it a little harder when you want to chase the strikeout.

Grimm: Right, yeah. It's funny because tonight, I was just throwing the heck out of it. Because I actually hold it with more of a slider grip, but it breaks like a curveball. That's kind of weird. I don't know. It's just something I had messed around with and just started throwing more for strikes than I did that true 12-to-6 breaking ball that I used to have. I think that tonight, I just really wasn't thinking about it. I was throwing the heck out of it. I had focal points about where to throw it, and it was just biting at the right time for me.

Cole: Was tonight one of those days where you were able to locate the breaking ball both for strikes and out of the zone when you needed?

Grimm: Yeah, tonight was one of those nights.

Cole: Looking back at this start and looking forward to your next one, even though it was such a good outing, what do you feel that you could do even better next time out?

Grimm: I think that, like I said, I just can't get complacent. I have to continue to do the work on my sides. I have to continue to do the work in my side sessions. I can't just start rolling through the motions like, ‘Hey, I've got it all figured out.' That type of thing. I didn't know much about any of the hitters tonight. I think now I've got more of a feel for some of those guys. Hopefully it'll make it a little easier next time, and I'll just go from there.

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