Grimm adding to his arsenal

ROUND ROCK, Texas – Although he's in just his second full season of professional ball, right-hander Justin Grimm has already reached the major leagues. The 23-year-old prospect is back in the minors for the time being, and Lone Star Dugout spoke with him about his time in the major leagues and his development plans going forward.

When Justin Grimm entered the 2012 season, his goals––as he states in the following interview––were to break camp with Double-A Frisco, pitch a strong season for the RoughRiders, and earn a spot in the Texas League All-Star Game.

While Grimm has already accomplished all three of those, he wasn't able to pitch in the All-Star Game––because he was pitching for the Texas Rangers.

Grimm, who split last season between Single-A Hickory and High-A Myrtle Beach, pitched well this spring and earned that assignment to Frisco. In fact, he was the 'Riders opening-day starter.

The University of Georgia product ended up making 14 Double-A starts this season, posting a 1.80 earned-run average. In 80 innings, he surrendered 67 hits, walked 14, and struck out 68.

Despite the success, Grimm's big league call-up came as a bit of a surprise to him. Not only was the 2010 fifth-round pick less than halfway through his second full season of professional baseball, but he also wasn't on the Rangers' 40-man roster. The club had to purchase his contract and add him in order to call him up.

But due to his Double-A success, above-average stuff and strong mental makeup, the Rangers felt he was best suited to make the start against Houston on June 16.

Although Grimm had a successful six-inning start against the Astros––earning the victory in his big league debut––he struggled while facing Detroit in his second outing. He also made a three-inning relief appearance versus the Chicago White Sox before being optioned back to the minor leagues.

Overall, Grimm logged 10 innings with the Rangers and allowed 12 runs on 17 hits while walking three and striking out 10.

The abbreviated big league stint gave Grimm an opportunity to flash his promise––he throws strikes and attacks hitters with three potential plus pitches. But it also showed that he's not quite ready for a full-time major league gig. As Grimm admits in the interview, he's still developing and finding himself as a pitcher.

The 23-year-old hurler has no-doubt come a long way since his collegiate days at Georgia, when he was regarded as a hard thrower with raw mechanics and highly erratic command. Grimm spent last season ironing out his mechanics and introducing a changeup into his arsenal.

After focusing on long-term development and ignoring the short-term results for much of the 2011 season, Grimm began to see the fruits of his labor at the upper levels this year.

When starting, Grimm's fastball sits between 91-93 mph and reaches up to 94-95 when he needs extra velocity. He flashed a consistent mid-90s fastball––touching up to 96––in the relief outing against Chicago. His sharp upper-70s, low-80s curveball gives him a second plus pitch. The low-80s changeup is above-average in flashes, though it's not yet consistent.

The excellent stuff was on display at times in Arlington. But after allowing 12 runs in 10 innings, Grimm is heading back to the minor leagues with plenty to refine.

Despite Grimm's above-average velocity, his four-seam fastball lacks natural movement. Although he creates good angle from his 6-foot-3 frame when he's able to locate the fastball down in the zone, it tends to get flat and hittable when left up. As a result, he began developing a two-seam fastball shortly before being called up last month.

One scout describes Grimm's two-seamer as having "plus run and sink," but Grimm hasn't had many opportunities to use it in game action just yet. He began mixing in a few against the Tigers because his four-seam was flat that day, but it's a pitch that he'll be able to develop confidence in by using more often––in lower-pressure situations––at Triple-A Round Rock.

Grimm was also a bit deliberate with his mechanics in his second major league start––an issue he ran into occasionally while pitching in Double-A. From time to time, he slowed his body when throwing his breaking ball and changeup. It's an issue that not only takes away bite from the secondaries, but also it detracts from his deception as advanced hitters can recognize the offspeed stuff when it leaves his hand. Grimm is an excellent athlete, and the change is still relatively new to him, so that's an issue that should be ironed out through repetition.

Following Grimm's second start, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux began working with Grimm to develop a fourth pitch––the slider. While he already has a good curveball, a quality hard slider can be perhaps even more effective because it works off the same plane as his hard fastball.

Grimm's slider is a definite work in progress––it's the latest addition to his developing repertoire. He brought it into game action less than a week after picking it up while playing catch with Maddux in the outfield at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Grimm's slider vs. Youkilis (h/t Joey Matschulat of BBTiA).
In the relief appearance, Grimm mixed in two sliders to White Sox slugger Kevin Youkilis (shown in the .gif above), throwing it at 83-84 mph with sharp late break and good tilt. Grimm says the slider acted as more of an 87-90 mph cutter in his first start back in the minor leagues, but he's satisfied with the pitch thus far.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound prospect is currently with Triple-A Round Rock. He'll pitch in the Express' rotation until he's needed in the big leagues again, whether it be in a week, a month, in September, or perhaps even next season. But Grimm knows he's got plenty of room to develop, and Lone Star Dugout caught up with him to discuss both his time in the big leagues and his development going forward.

Jason Cole: Tell me about your time in the big leagues. What did you come away with?

Justin Grimm: It was a positive experience. I learned a lot. Some of the veterans––just being around there and seeing how they do things. The next time I go up, I'll be more comfortable. Or if I get up––I don't want to just say ‘next time I go up.' Obviously I've still got a lot of work to do before I can get there and establish myself there.

But I learned that I can get big league hitters out when I execute my pitches. My stuff plays up there. I was able to strike some guys out and get some good, tough outs up there.

I've just got to get a little more consistent and not try to do too much at times. That's what happened last night. I was trying to do too much––forcing it in there instead of letting it happen. I think if I can just learn that I'm never going to be late. I'm always going to be early. If I just get that mindset––I'm going to try to take it into my next start and see what happens.

Cole: You had five consecutive strikeouts at one point during your big league debut against Houston. In terms of being able to see that your stuff could make major league hitters swing and miss, how big was that for your confidence?

Grimm: Exactly. Like you said, I've just got to be consistent with my stuff and throw strikes. That's the main thing. When you start getting behind, you make it easy for them. Those guys are good hitters. When you're getting behind––it's already tough enough at High-A, Double-A and Triple-A to get guys out when you're getting behind. But up there, it's a whole new level. If you're not executing that pitch, you're going to pay for it.

Cole: Your second start, against the Tigers, obviously didn't go as you'd hoped. What did you feel the difference was?

Grimm: Well, I went back and looked at a little bit of video. I just looked at it as––I'm going to shake that off. I went back, and everything was flat. The breaking ball was flat. It was more side-to-side than anything. It was up. It was up, and my fastball was flat. It didn't have any angle on it.

I think I came out again against the White Sox, and I showed a lot of good things there. The velocity was good––really good––out of the ‘pen. I showed that I can get ready quickly, come out of the ‘pen, and be able to throw strikes. Obviously that one inning didn't go the way I wanted, but there were a lot of things that went on in that inning that could be easily avoided. You've got to look at it that way.

Yeah, that was a big confidence booster––the five straight strikeouts. I'm not saying that I'm coming back to the minors cocky at all, because I know I've still got a job to do and I still know that I have to execute my pitches, but it's a whole different mindset. I go into games with a lot more confidence, knowing I can do it. I don't have to be so perfect. I say that, and you probably wonder, ‘Well, you come down here and walk three people in four innings.' But I think it's also getting back into a rhythm––starting and everything.

I would've liked to get another shot against Oakland because I felt like if I would've gotten that other shot, I would've come through for them. But like I said, Detroit was just one of those nights where it was up and flat––everything was and nothing was working. You've just got to wear those. It's part of the game. You're going to have good ones, and you're going to have bad ones.

I'm not happy it happened, but it was a good learning experience. Obviously if I'm going out there at the big league level and dealing in my first two starts, maybe I feel like I already have it made. I said, going into my first start, that I was just still in the learning process. Heck, I'm not even a year and a half into pro baseball and I'm making a start because of some injuries. But I'm still developing, and that's my mindset. It's a process, and I've still got work to do to establish myself up there.

Cole: We saw it with both you and Martin Perez, going between the bullpen and the rotation early in the major league career. You're obviously a guy who was solely a starting pitcher in the minors. How was it in terms of getting ready quickly to come into a relief role against the White Sox?

Grimm: The only thing that's really––you get that call on the phone, and they say, ‘Hey Grimm, you're up. Let's go.' You don't have time to do your bands and stretch out. You're relying just on throwing. It seems a little more dangerous, but at the same time, I'm young. I felt like I was able to do it well.

Cole: The Double-A results this season speak for themselves, but you also had the occasional start there where you pushed the changeup or were a little more deliberate with your secondaries. Did you feel that was an issue in the start against Detroit?

Grimm: Yeah, definitely. Speaking of the changeup––that was one of the positive things that I took away from last night. Last night, there were a lot of positives and some negatives. I had a shaky first. But the positive was that I was able to execute pitches when I needed to. I got out of a jam when I started throwing some quality breaking balls in there. I got a couple punchouts.

And the two-seam––I threw a lot of them last night, and it was an effective pitch to lefties. They kept fouling it off. They never put it in play really hard. The changeup was an effective pitch last night against these guys, too. Last night was probably the first start that I've had my old changeup that I had at the beginning of the season––when it was really good and working for me.

Cole: When you talked to Ron Washington or Mike Maddux about being sent back down, what did they tell you? Did they give you anything in specific that they wanted you to refine?

Grimm: He just said, ‘Keep doing the work.' Obviously I didn't know if I was going to be up there for a spot start or not. But to get three or three and a half weeks in, that was pretty cool. It was a cool experience. And it's just motivating me more.

Wash and Mike––they don't know how guys are going to take it from the mental aspect. I'm a guy who's going to work hard. I'm going to do what it takes and enjoy the process instead of try to––I think with most guys, when it happens, they try to manipulate the process. They think, ‘Oh, well maybe I got screwed,' or this or that. But the way I look at it, I'm a year and a half into pro ball. And like I said, going into that first start, I was still developing. I knew it. That's why I was so nervous going into that first start. I was like, ‘What's going to happen?' I'm still developing. I'm still trying to find who I am as a pitcher and all that.

They didn't really say much. They seemed like they hated to do it, but it's understandable.

Cole: Obviously getting to pitch in those big league games in front of crowds between 30,000 and 50,000 is plenty of motivation. But you also got to go on a couple of big league road trips and see the difference between minor league travel and major league travel. How much of a motivator is that?

Grimm: Oh, definitely. It's just all around––the clubhouses, the spreads, and everything that's available to you at the big league level. It's just so much better. When you go on the plane, it's like all first-class seats. It's unbelievable.

But for me, being on a big league roster and competing on a team to win––Roy Oswalt actually said this to me. We were sitting on the bus, and I also read it in an article where he said this. He was like, ‘Who cares whether you give up 10 runs or one run? A loss is a loss.' And it's kind of like that Detroit start. Whether I would've given up one or five, a loss is a loss. It's kind of like if your team scores five runs, as a starter, you're allowed to give up four and get a win.

That's just the mindset that you have. That's one thing I took away from Roy. I really like that mindset. I think it'll help you win ballgames––not trying to be so fine, not trying to worry about strikeouts, and not trying to worry about ERA.

Cole: You've shown the full package of command and three plus pitches in flashes this season. But what do you feel you need to work on in Triple-A in order to become a consistent and full-time big leaguer?

Grimm: I just think it's not trying to press too much. Sometimes I'll get into a mode where I try and overthrow because I don't feel like 93-94 mph is good enough painted. I don't know. I think that's one big thing––not trying to overthrow.

The second thing is the development of the two-seam, which has come a long way. I mean, heck, I was trying to learn it three or four weeks ago. It's something that I just started using in the game at the big league level. I was getting outs with it––getting ground balls from big league hitters with it. That's when I really gained confidence in that pitch. I brought it down, and in these past couple starts it has been very effective.

Also, I'm trying to learn a slider that's going to run away from righties. It's more of a cutter right now, which is fine as long as I get it to the outer half of the plate. It's a work in progress.

But I think it's just that I've got to keep doing what I'm doing. That's pound the zone and not try to do too much. I think, when I got up there and had success, I tried to do even more. I tried to be even better instead of just being me. I think just being me got me there the first time––unfortunately because of injuries.

Being in the big leagues this year wasn't part of my game plan or, as well, probably the front office's game plan. It was just something that happened so quickly. Once that happens, all your goals change and everything. My goal, personally, is to continue to learn as much as I can down here. I want to continue to develop myself every day and get back up there hopefully when they need me, whether it's in a month, September, or next year. You never know.

So that's my personal goal now. Going into the season, it was just to be on the Double-A roster and have a solid year, be an All-Star, and stuff like that. I've already done that, but like I said, when new things happen, you've got to change your goals so you don't get complacent.

Cole: I want to get to the two-seam fastball and slider in a second. But coming into your major league debut, I don't believe Ron Washington had ever seen you pitch before. You weren't with the big league club in spring training. I don't believe you got an inning with them on that side this spring.

Grimm: Right, I didn't.

Cole: So what was that like, walking into the clubhouse? It was really the first time you'd met most of those guys.

Grimm: Exactly. I just kind of kept to myself. I didn't say much. Most guys came up to my locker and said, ‘Congratulations. Good to see you,' and stuff like that. And that's how I met them. Mitch Moreland stuck out the most because right as I walked in––I had a locker next to him––and he said, ‘Hey man, congratulations. Good to see you. Glad you're here.' And that night he gave me his phone number and said, ‘Look, if you need a ride or anything, let me know. Here's my number.' I thought that was pretty awesome.

Robbie Ross was a huge help as well. Obviously I knew him. He gave me a place to stay. I didn't have to worry about all that. Just being around him for three weeks––he's a great guy. When I get back up there, I'm going to have some more fun with him and be a part of that team with him. He's having an unbelievable year.

But yeah, when you walk into the clubhouse and you don't know many guys, you're kind of nervous at first. But I got up there a couple days early, and I was able to get acquainted and everything. I think that helped out instead of just going up and saying, ‘Oh hey, I'm starting for this team tonight.'

Cole: It made you feel like you were more of a part of the team.

Grimm: Yeah, definitely.

Cole: You mentioned that you were mixing in the two-seam fastball a bit in the majors. How often were you doing it?

Grimm: I got Prince Fielder out with it, actually. On 3-2, I said, ‘You know what, the heck with it. If you throw him a four-seam that runs over the plate, he's going to crush me. So I'm going to get something that runs away from him or walk him.' I had first base open, so I threw it and got a ground ball to Beltre.

That pitch probably––when it started for me, I was like, ‘Man, this could be a solid pitch in the future for me.' That was the main thing with that, and I used it a lot last night. I don't think they squared one up. It has just a little sink and run, and it's the perfect pitch for lefties––maybe if I'm not spotting up my four-seam or something. It's something just to run away from them.

Cole: Is the goal, for when you get back to the major leagues, to have the two-seam fastball as a reliable pitch that you're comfortable using in any situation?

Grimm: Yes, definitely. I don't know how much time I'll have. You never know what will happen up there obviously. But if it's September when I go up, I definitely think it'll be a pitch that is developed.

The cutter––it's funny. I threw two sliders to Youkilis and got a swing and miss on one of them. One of the two was good. Ever since then, it has kind of turned into a cutter. But I was throwing it yesterday in pregame a lot. If I got a situation where it wasn't going to put me into trouble, I was going to throw it. But obviously I was getting behind and couldn't mix it in.

But the catcher said he likes it a lot. He thinks it's going to be a good pitch for the future. Obviously both of those pitches are a work in progress. I'm still going out there to compete with my best stuff. I'm going to go out there and compete with my best stuff and give my team the best chance I can to win. That's why I'm here.

Cole: Who approached you about throwing a slider?

Grimm: Mike Maddux.

Cole: Did that come right after you got to the majors?

Grimm: No, it was after the Detroit start. He said, ‘I want to play catch with you and implement a slider maybe.' I said, ‘Okay, we'll work on it.' I'm open to ideas. I guess some guys aren't open to many ideas, and they want to do it their way. But I'm open to a lot. I just try new things. If they don't work out, I throw it in the trash. But if it's something that I think will help me succeed in the future––a pitch for down the line––then I'll use it.

I noticed against Youkilis especially––I went back and watched video––and the slider low and away sets up that low-and-away fastball much better than a breaking ball that comes in at the chest and drops down. I think it's definitely a good pitch.

Cole: Where was the slider velocity-wise?

Grimm: The other night in Frisco I threw it a lot just to see. It was more of a cutter. It ranged from 87 to 90 mph. So it just depends on whether I get on the ball, I guess. But I haven't really checked on that yet. I'm just more or less trying to learn the grip and throw it.

Cole: When Joe Wieland started throwing his slider out of spring training last year, it was more of a cutter at first before slowly developing into a true slider. Is the goal to make yours a true slider?

Grimm: Probably long term. But if a cutter is just a pitch that I succeed with, then why not just throw the cutter until it starts getting it?

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