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Feb. 16, 2012

GT Leadoff Celebration

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Deck McGuire did it. So did Jed Bradley. So did Mark Pope.

What is it they all have in common?

If you’re thinking all three were star pitchers at Georgia Tech who got drafted and are now playing professionally, you’d be right.

They share something else — McGuire, Bradley and Pope all started out their college careers pitching in the midweek starter’s slot.

Matt Grimes is looking to join that successful group.

The 6-6 sophomore, who was 7-4 with an 4.15 ERA in 12 starts last season as the midweek starter, with 77 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings, makes his 2012 debut at approximately 6 p.m. Friday when he takes the mound of the Winthrop Ballpark against the homestanding Eagles in Game 2 of the Yellow Jackets’ season-opening double header.

The fall practices and spring auditions are over. Grimes knows it’s time to put up. He also knows he’s not going to make people forget Bradley, who pitched on Saturdays last season and this weekend will be reporting to Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, Ariz. for spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers. That’s about 20 miles from Peoria Stadium in Phoenix, where Pope will be reporting with the San Diego Padres.

He certainly hasn’t. He remembers the impact Bradley made, and, as important, the road he took.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill but I’m up to the challenge and hopefully I’ll contribute,” said Grimes. “With a guy like Jed, you see his story, he worked his way up from freshman to getting drafted the first round his junior year, I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps. Maybe I’ll turn out like him.”

Georgia Tech pitching coach Tom Kinkelaar believes Grimes can do just that.

” I think he’s more than capable,” said Kinkelaar. “He’s stepped up. We’re counting on him a lot to step in and give us quality starts every time he goes out. He’s a hard thrower. He’s a strikeout pitcher, a power guy. What I’m trying to get across to him, being on the weekends, is try to be more efficient with his pitches, try to get ahead in the counts, try not to get a lot of three-ball counts and things like that. “

As a freshman, Grimes showed he could be overpowering. On April 12, he blew away 10 Georgia Bulldogs in 6 2/3 innings It was one of nine appearances where he struck out at least five hitters. Being a strikeout pitcher also frequently led to high pitch counts. He averaged 87.25 pitches per start, but seven times went well north of that, including throwing 106 pitches April 12 against UGA. Only one start did he pitch into the seventh, which is where the efficiency will help him.

Grimes is a year older and a year wiser.

“This time last year, I had no idea what to expect as far as the season goes,” he said. “Now I feel like I have my feet underneath me a little bit more, I’m better prepared for what lies ahead this season.”

Opposing hitters may not be as prepared for him, however, as his repertoire includes a more effective slider. It’s a pitch Kinkelaar showed him and Buck Farmer in early March, and one they quickly picked up.

“He picked it up really fast,” said Kinkelaar. “He was basically a fastball, curveball, change-up guy last year. I just thought he needed a different breaking ball than his curveball. Surprisingly [Grimes and Farmer] picked it up really fast. Some guys don’t pick it up as quick.”

Grimes started throwing the pitch only five days after being shown it and feels he has enough command of it that it can be an effective pitch for him. He credits extensive work on it over the summer with the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League.

“I feel like that’s where I really started to mature as a pitcher,” he said. “I learned a lot about pitching being with some of the best hitters around. I felt like I fine-tuned my craft and I hope it will payoff this season.”

The fine-tuning continued during the fall working with Kinkelaar.

“We were just trying to work on command,” Grimes said. “With any bigger guys, tall lanky guys may have trouble with command of pitches. Focusing on mechanics all the time and just make sure you do the right things as far as that goes. Just working to get better in that area.”

Kinkelaar believes he can relate to Grimes, as both stand 6-6.

“I can understand a lot of the things that he goes through because of body type, in trying to get the leverage, things like that,” Kinkelaar said. “He can look at me and my frame and his frame. We’re basically the same type of person. Some of the things, making a transition, if it’s a mechanical thing or anything else, he knows that I know what I’m talking about and we basically have been through it.”

Grimes is looking forward to taking the sum total of his experience in 2011 into 2012. That experience includes two wins over Georgia, then, a pair of memorable postseason relief appearances, pitching two shutout innings to get the win in Tech’s 6-5, 15-inning win over NC State in the ACC Tournament, then a hard-luck loss eight days later, in the opener of the NCAA Regional at Russ Chandler Stadium against Austin Peay, when he relieved an injured Pope with two out in the second inning and threw 6 2/3 innings of two-run, three-hit ball, allowing one walk while striking out eight in the 2-1. Unfortunately, one of the hits was a seventh-inning solo homer.

“I just have to get better from where I left off against Austin Peay,” he said. “I didn’t get the win, but I have to take the playoff mentality that I had in that game, just attacking hitters. Take that into the season and grind out every pitch and every at-bat.

“There is a lot riding on these weekend games,” he added. “Not saying that there wasn’t last year in the midweek games, but these weekend series are pretty huge and they mean a lot for our ACC standing further down in the season. You’ve really got to perform under pressure in those circumstances. I’m looking forward to the start on Friday and seeing what the season has in store.”


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