Justin Grimm, Major Leaguer.
If Yu Darvish brought his good swing-and-miss stuff to the mound, particularly a wipeout breaking ball that hitters couldn’t lay off and couldn’t touch, and issued zero walks, it would be part of the story lead.
If Colby Lewis was able to keep the ball away from middle-middle, gave up the requisite one long ball per game, and saved the bullpen with another quality start, we’d be talking about a day on which we got Good Colby.
If Derek Holland pulled things together after a home run and punched out the next five hitters in succession, and flipped on the battle switch once he found his team behind by three runs, we’d call it a positive step.
If Matt Harrison, the Rangers’ hottest starting pitcher at the moment, went out and fanned more than a batter per inning, something he hasn’t done all season, we’d be advancing the conversation about whether he deserves a long-term extension like Holland got.
But it was Justin Grimm who did all those things on Saturday, in front of 48,000-plus that included his parents Mark and Tamara and his sister Ashley, six days after he’d faced the Class AA Midland RockHounds in front of a crowd one-seventh that size, when he put up a 7-5-3-3-1-8 (one home run) line that statistically looked remarkably like yesterday’s 6-6-3-3-0-7 (one home run) effort against Houston. It was Grimm, the Rangers’ eighth starting pitcher of the season (one more than they needed in all of 2011), helping a couple dozen brand new teammates maintain a division lead that they’d earned over the 10 weeks that he’d spent doing his job 40 miles northeast in Frisco.
There are plenty of cool historical notes to flag. No Rangers pitcher had ever fanned five straight in his debut. Only 10 other pitchers in recorded baseball history had fanned at least seven and walked none in a big league debut; since 2000, Stephen Strasburg and Johnny Cueto are the two who had done it.
No American League pitcher had done it since 1965.
The last time two Rangers starters won their big league debuts in the same season (before Darvish and Grimm) was in 1986, when Kevin Brown and Mike Loynd did it – wearing the same home whites that Texas wore in yesterday’s turn-back-the-clock contest.
The last Rangers pitcher before Georgia’s Grimm to debut with at least five innings of work and zero walks was Georgia Tech’s Brown.
Brown’s third baseman that September 1986 day was Steve Buechele, who, as Grimm’s manager, was the man charged Thursday with the task of breaking the news to the 23-year-old that he was headed to the big leagues, a mere two years into a professional career.
You can bet Martin Perez and Barret Loux and Cody Buckel and Nick Tepesch were paying attention, and that Ryan Coe was on the edge of his Rangers Ballpark seat for every bit of Grimm’s start. This organization’s idea of meritocracy isn’t founded on tenure, whether you’re a pitching prospect or an area scout.
The Rangers repeatedly relied on Coe, who was a college baseball coach until the Rangers hired him to find college and high school players in 2010, in that year’s draft. Coe had never scouted before, and yet Texas went with his recommendations in the first round (high school outfielder Jake Skole), third round (high school outfielder Jordan Akins), and fifth round (Grimm, who went 3-7, 5.49 that spring with the University of Georgia but had a set of tools that Coe recognized and convinced the club to take a chance on and spend over slot for).
It’s a remarkable thing to look back on, considering not only that Coe is one of 18 area scouts and covers only one state and part of another, but also that he was a first-time scout with no track record.
His 2010 effort was the scouting equivalent to Grimm’s Saturday performance, in a way, and it’s a cool thing that Coe (who was also responsible for the club’s top two picks in 2011, lefthander Kevin Matthews and outfielder Zach Cone) was there to see it.
I don’t think minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark, Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews, or Myrtle Beach pitching coach Brad Holman were in Arlington yesterday, but they can take every bit as much satisfaction in Justin’s day as Mark and Tamara and Coe and Jon Daniels and Kip Fagg and Phil Geisler and Tim Purpura and Nolan Ryan do, and there’s surely a part of Scott Servais that’s happy for Grimm as well, even if there’s that other part, too.
The composure that Grimm showed on the mound yesterday was just about as impressive as the breaking ball or the pitching line, as he battled against Ryan’s and Coe’s and Purpura’s and Servais’s former organization and earned a big league win in a big league start in those 1986 uniforms.
For Mark and Tamara, who became parents in 1986 when Justin’s brother Matt was born, it’s hard to imagine there have been too many Father’s Days that rank up there with this one.
And if Justin does get optioned out soon as Roy Oswalt and Holland near readiness (less of a problem than you might think since Grimm will have four options rather than three), the chances are very good that he’ll be back in the big leagues before long, one way or another – other teams will be interested in giving him that shot if Texas is open to the idea – without the jitters that he shook yesterday after a first-inning home run, keeping his team in the game long enough to let the offense do its job, to validate the work Coe and Clark and Holman and Andrews and Grimm himself put in, and to earn a big league victory and the opportunity for plenty more.