March 24, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
NEXT GAME: Tonight, vs. Mercer, at Russ Chandler Stadium. First pitch: 6:00 p.m.
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Having to face not being able to do something you love can be difficult.
For more than a year and a half, Matt Grimes did just that.
He hurt his right elbow then underwent Tommy John surgery. While the ligament-replacement procedure has become commonplace in today’s world of baseball, it still forces the individual that has had it to go through more than a year of physical rehabilitation.
Yet the physical part wasn’t the hardest part for Grimes.
“Most of it’s mental. It’s not really physical I could argue,” said the redshirt junior from Hoschton, Ga. “You just have to battle through it. I guess the saying is true, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ For me, that’s turned out to be true.’”
Grimes is back toeing the rubber as Georgia Tech’s Sunday starter and that means that opposing hitters are now having to face not being able to do something they love — get hits.
Grimes was brilliant in raising his record to 3-0 on Saturday afternoon in the second game of Tech’s double-header sweep of No. 13 North Carolina at Boshamer Stadium, in Chapel Hill. He matched his career-high, going 7.0 innings (he previously did it on Feb. 17, 2012 at Winthrop), allowing only one first-inning run, and scattering eight hits. He struck out three and walked two, throwing 93 pitches, 60 for strikes. He also induced three double plays to stay out of trouble.
You could say he pitched with a purpose. He did.
“When I stepped on the mound I felt like it was my opportunity to show how far I’ve come as far as the recovery process with the whole Tommy John Surgery,” he said. “I just let it go and I was fortunate that they hit the ball to our fielders and our fielders made some good plays. The ball kind of fell in my favor. I was thankful for that.”
The ball falling in his favor is justice for Grimes, who had started off his career with so much promise (a 7-4 freshman year, with a 4.15 starter in 15 appearances, 12 starts as the Yellow Jackets’ mid-week starter) before it all nearly slipped away due to elbow troubles.
The rehab tried his patience, but he never gave in. He gives some credit to his spiritual faith. Credit also goes to faith in teammate Devin Stanton, who was going through the same rehab.
“I went to him if I had any questions. He was there for me,” Grimes said. “That was a good feeling because it was like your shadow walked in. I just followed whatever he did.”
Grimes, who had the opportunity to go pro after being selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 31st round of the 2013 June Draft, decided he still had things to prove in college so he came back Georgia Tech.
“To have been drafted was pretty cool,” recalled Grimes, who also was drafted by the Chicago White Sox on the fourth round of the 2010 Draft, coming out of high school, turning them down to come to Tech. “But I felt like going back to school I could get some more years towards my degree and maybe raise my stock in this year’s draft.”
The choice to come back was applauded by Head Coach Danny Hall.
“[The Phillies] made an offer — I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the offer was — but he just called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m coming back to school,’” Hall said. “I was happy that we had an opportunity to get him back because I think we’re seeing what he can mean to a team if he is healthy and throwing well.”
“He got drafted last year and decided to come back and I think came back for all the right reasons,” Hall added. “Even starting back in the fall I knew that he was pretty determined to work very hard to get back to the form that he had when he was a freshman. We’re starting to see that form.”
The 6-6 right-hander has pitched 22 2/3 innings (second on the team) and, while he’s allowed nine earned runs, he’s allowed one or fewer in five of his six appearances. His one off outing came on the Ides of March against Miami, when he allowed six runs in three innings.
Take away that appearance, and Grimes is pitching to a 1.37 ERA (three earned runs in 19 2/3 innings).
Grimes started 2013 by throwing a scoreless inning, allowing only a walk, on Feb. 16 against VCU, his first appearance since March 17, 2012. He followed that a week later, with two innings against UNC Greensboro, surrendering a run on three hits, with a strikeout.
Then came the breakthrough appearance. He fired 4 2/3-innings of shutout ball against Bowling Green on March 2. Grimes allowed one hit, striking out three while walking one in earning his first win since March 13, 2012.
Grimes then made a triumphant returned to the rotation, throwing five innings of one-run, two-hit ball, in beating Wake Forest on March 9. The Miami hiccup followed (although the Jackets came back to win the game, 13-7), then the stellar outing at North Carolina.
His return of his strength is right on schedule for someone who has undergone this surgery.
“They say you start to be like your old self, towards the 16-to-18-month mark,” he said. “That’s when you’re kind of back to where you were pre-operation.”
Hall believes so are the good things that were headed the Jackets’ way with Grimes in the weekend rotation prior to the procedure, and for the righty.
“I think the biggest thing is sticking with his routine and the way he’s been working out and taking care of himself,” Hall said. “I think you’ll see, if he has success we’re going to have a lot of success and hopefully once our season’s done, he gets drafted again and gets the chance to go pitch in professional baseball.”