April 25, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech baseball head coach Danny Hall takes every game seriously.
For him, there is no such thing as a throw-away game.
That means that the pitcher who takes the mound in mid-week games is as important as the guys who toe the rubber on the weekend.
Ask someone who has been there.
“These games are huge for us. It’s more of an in-state battle every time. You want to win the state championship every year, especially against Georgia,” said Mark Pope. “Those games are going to be hyped up. Like Mercer, Georgia Southern, we want to win the state championship every year.”
Pope, this year’s Friday night starter, pitched Tech to the in-state championship last year, going 7-0 in mid-week games (he had one no-decision in the first victory over Georgia), as part of an 8-1 season.
Freshman Matt Grimes, this year’s midweek starter, will get the ball when the Jackets take the field this evening looking to complete a three-game sweep of Georgia for the second straight season, in the Kaufman Tire Spring Classic For Kids, at Turner Field. First pitch is at 7:00. All proceeds from the game go to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Grimes is 5-2 with a 4.01 ERA, but is coming off a 6-3 loss at Mercer last Tuesday, ending a six-start unbeaten streak (4-0, two no-decisions).
He has already won both starts against Georgia, including a 5-3 win at Russ Chandler two weeks ago, when he struck out a career-high 10 batters. In his two outings, he’s pitched to 2.83 ERA (four earned runs in 12 2/3 innings), having allowed 13 hits, while striking out 12 and not walking a batter. That control is a big part of his success this year.
“Just throwing strikes and getting ground ball outs and letting the defense work,” he said. “Then I can always count on the bats to back me up. That’s a good feeling to have as a pitcher.”
Grimes also can count on Pope being behind him and, when necessary, in his ear. The junior has taken an active role in helping Grimes develop his game and helping him navigate the road he’s already traveled.
“I feel like I’ve been everywhere that he is stepping into this year, with all the teams, facing a lot of the same guys. So it’s more of a mental approach,” Pope said. “Just knowing how to go after each place, especially going into Georgia Southern. I was telling him beforehand, the fans there are going to be nuts, they’re going to be screaming your name, calling you all this trash the whole time. Just trying to prepare him for that, so he’d be ready, so he’ll be on top of his game and focused on each and every pitch.”
Grimes will certainly be focused this week, looking to be more like the pitcher he was two weeks ago when he dominated UGA, becoming the first Georgia Tech pitcher this season to have double-figure strikeouts and no walks in a game.
Pope threw a post-game celebration for Grimes right after the game that made the night unforgettable — hitting him in the face with a shaving cream pie.
“It was my first TV interview. I was a little bit nervous,” Grimes recalled. “He kind of loosened the mood a little bit when he came up behind me with the shaving cream. That was funny. I’ll give it to him. He got me. That’s just making memories, I guess.”
Pope believes Grimes is just getting started making memories.
“There is no doubt in my mind he will be one of the best weekend guys Tech will have for a long time,” he said. “His body type and his explosive fastball, there is nothing holding him back. I don’t see any way that he won’t just take off.”
He added that Grimes also may have to get used to taking off shaving cream.
“If he’s keeps pitching like we know he can and kind of expect from him now, [shaving cream facials are] definitely something that could be coming around again.”
For more information on the Spring Classic for Kids, please click here