Throughout the off-season, we will spend some time catching up with former RoughRiders. In this edition, we hear from pitcher Justin Grimm, who was Frisco’s Opening Day starter in 2012 and went 9-3 with a 1.72 ERA in 16 games (14 starts) for the ‘Riders. He was promoted directly to the Rangers in mid-June and rotated through Frisco, Triple-A Round Rock and Texas over the remainder of the season. ‘Riders broadcaster Alex Vispoli chatted with Justin in Arlington recently to talk about his adjustment to working out of the bullpen and his 2012 season.
Alex Vispoli: How has your experience been since you re-joined the Rangers? Like you never left?
Justin Grimm: Yeah, it’s a little different. When I got up here it was more of a relief because I wanted to get back at some point in September. That was my goal when I got sent back down [to Frisco in July]. So it’s a little of a relief. Things go a little smoother too. I knew a lot of the guys [this time around] and I can continue getting closer to them.
AV: Is it a little easier when you can walk back into the clubhouse knowing that you have relationships with a lot of these guys, whereas the first time you might not have really known much about them seeing as it was your first time coming into a big league clubhouse?
JG: Yeah, it’s a lot easier. Like you said when I first came up here I knew one guy, Robbie Ross. But this time people are starting to open up more and more everyday and I just try to be myself and stay in my path, not try to get in the way too much. It’s definitely different the second time and plus you expect a little more out of yourself the second time around.
AV: What’s the adjustment been like for you going from starter to the bullpen which is something you really haven’t done before?
JG: It’s a little different physically. With starting you’re on more of a routine, you know when you’re going to throw. When you’re in the bullpen, you don’t know what the coach is thinking. Maybe he wants to give a certain guy a rest or maybe he doesn’t, so you just have to be ready every day and stay mentally locked in every day when the game starts. From the physical side of it, to me it takes a toll on my body because I’m not used to it. It’s throwing everyday. Not that I’ve been throwing every single day, but when I was in Frisco [at the end of the regular season], I was throwing every other day and I discovered that was arm recovering at a different rate. So instead of five days [between throwing in games] you’ve got one day or maybe you’re going to throw the next day.
AV: You haven’t had a ton of chances to get in games since coming back but how helpful was it that you had those few games in Frisco to take the training wheels off when it comes to pitching in relief for the first time?
JG: I think that helped me out more from just knowing what to expect from a physical side because, like I said, it’s different when you’re starting because you’ve got five days instead of having to be ready to go the next day. Mentally, I think it’s all the same. You’re just trying to go out there and attack the hitter. For me, whether it’s starting or coming out of the bullpen, you’re just trying to go after guys, you don’t want to walk them and try not to get yourself into trouble.
AV: What’s the feeling been like in a playoff race? Is it any different than when you were in the playoffs with Frisco or is it that same focus that you see from your teammates and from yourself?
JG: I think it’s the same focus. I think when you go out there the adrenaline’s always pumping no matter what. It is a little tougher coming in when we’re down a lot as compared to a tie ballgame. I think from a competitive standpoint, you try to be as competitive as you can be. Still, it is a little different. But as far as going out there and wanting to get the job done, I think it’s the same mindset.
AV: In your big league debut back in June you had a packed house and you’ve had big home crowds down the stretch. I would bet that gets the adrenaline going and that it never gets old.
JG: Yeah, I think I control the adrenaline a little bit better in a starting role. In the debut I think that’s the best I’ve handled myself in a while. I stayed within myself and just pounded the zone. Out of the ’pen, you know you’re in there for one or two innings so you kind of just blow it out. It’s a little bit different but it’s something you have to get used to.
AV: What are you going to remember from your season with the RoughRiders? What do you take from your experience in Frisco?
JG: It was just a really good year for me. I think I led the league in ERA [note: Grimm’s 1.72 ERA would have been the lowest in the Texas League, but he finished 28.1 innings short of qualifying] and had a lot of success. I learned a lot from [pitching coach Jeff Andrews], probably the most I have learned in any year that I’ve played baseball. I think that comes from coming into the season just wanting to learn and then getting better. I knew I had to do something different [this season] and had to listen to Jeff because he’s been around for a while. He’s been at the big league level and he knows what it takes. It’s a tribute to Jeff that he gets guys ready to go for the big league level. It’s not just like “I’m going to get you ready for Triple-A and what you have to do there.” So it’s good to be with that type of coach and that’s probably what I am going to take most [from my season in Frisco].
Occasionally throughout the off-season we will spend some time catching up with former RoughRiders. In this edition, we hear from Rangers rookie Mike Olt, who spent most of the 2012 season in Frisco. A Mid-Season and Postseason Texas League All-Star, Olt played in 95 games for the RoughRiders, hitting .288 with 28 home runs and 82 RBI. He was called up directly to the Texas Rangers on August 2 but has been hampered by a foot injury in most of his time as a big leaguer. ‘Riders broadcaster Alex Vispoli caught up with Mike at a recent Rangers home game to reflect on making the Majors and his time with Frisco.
Alex Vispoli: When you found out you were going up, was that a surprise for you or were you expecting it?
Mike Olt: No, it was definitely a surprise. It was weird how in those last couple of days they were trying to do some [different] things with me, especially playing first base on back-to-back days. But really going into the office I thought they were going to talk to me about what my plan was because the trade deadline was over, what they wanted me to shoot for. I knew I was ready, and then when they were able to say I was getting the call up, it was quite the feeling.
AV: I know Frisco manager Steve Buechele has had creative ways of telling guys that they are being promoted, the one with Justin Grimm comes to mind. If I remember correctly, he was telling you the route to get down to Round Rock?
MO: Yeah, he said to pack my car up and try and head out early to go to Round Rock and he kept the story going the whole time, he probably talked about for five minutes just to stay focused and keep doing what I’m doing, don’t change anything. And then, just when I’m leaving he’s like “make sure you’re in Arlington in time for C.J. Wilson.” So that was good, that’s something I’ll never forget.
AV: What are the emotions you’re feeling at that point, where’s your heart at that moment?
MO: Oh, I couldn’t talk. And that’s the first time in my life I probably couldn’t talk. I was just really excited. You always hear stories about [getting promoted to the big leagues]; I have some buddies that got called up and they tell you what their feelings are and you can understand where they’re coming from, but when you feel that [yourself] then you really understand what it’s like, you just get goose bumps. It’s everything you’ve worked for.
AV: Just in terms of the roller coaster for you, I remember talking to you the week or so leading up to the trading deadline and we weren’t really sure what was going to happen. You were trusting whatever the plan was and I guess the plan all along was to get you right up there after the trade deadline. Looking back on it the whole range of emotions must have made it both a little fun and at the time a little stressful.
MO: It was, but I did my best to block it all out. And I always said I was definitely able to block it out but there were times when I just wanted to know what was going on. When it was all over with that was definitely relieving, but I definitely did know that I was in a good situation either way so that helped.
AV: You had a base hit in your first Major League at bat. What’s going through your head when you step into the batter’s box in a big league game for the first time and then you connect on that base hit? Hitter’s always talk about getting that first hit early in a game to take some stress off the rest of the way and that you got a hit in your first-ever at bat must have been a weight off of your shoulders.
MO: I was nervous during the day but when it got to game time and I got out there and walked into the box it really felt like just another at bat. I tried to make it as close to normal as I could. Obviously facing C.J. Wilson it’s tougher to stay within your approach against a guy like that. But I wasn’t nervous which helped me stay [within myself] and not try to do too much so that helped.
AV:Have you had a moment yet where you’ve taken a step back and said to yourself “Wow, I’m in the big leagues.”? Have you had a “welcome to the big leagues” type of moment that you can remember where all of a sudden you realize that you’re not in the Texas League any more?
MO: That happened the first day, even with just the crowd. It’s a totally different feeling when you have 45,000 fans cheering for you, that’s a great feeling. And then in my second at bat I hit a ball up in the hole and a guy makes a “Top Play” on it. I get back to the dugout and that was a time where it was like “welcome to the big leagues.” That usually doesn’t get caught in Double-A.
AV: Unless it’s [Jurickson] Profar, right?
MO: Right [laughs]. No, I would have taken care of him if he caught it.
AV: Has it been nice to see four guys [Wilmer Font, Justin Grimm, Jurickson Profar and Robbie Ross] that you played with in the Minors on the big league roster now with you? Guys that you came up playing with, to play alongside them has that been a fun experience for you?
MO: Yeah, definitely. It always helps to have guys that you’ve played with and that you’re comfortable with. Especially because it’s a good group of young guys mixed with the good group of older guys. The veteran guys really show us the way and they make it really easy for us up here. Some of the other guys from other teams that I talk to, for them it’s a little of a different atmosphere. Not once when you’re here do the veteran guys make you feel like a rookie, so that also helps.
AV: How tough has it been just with the fact that you haven’t been able to get on the field in being a rookie and also with the injuries? Unfortunately you’ve had plenty of practice overcoming the minor injuries, but it’s still an adjustment.
MO: No, this isn’t the way I want to start my career with something as small as plantar fasciitis. I don’t even know how I got it; I don’t know how it happened or why it had to happen in the first four days of my big league career. But I was still able to get a lot out of [the experience here] while I was hurt and on the bench. I’ve learned a ton and I’m excited to take what I’ve learned and incorporate it with how I go about my business and improve.
AV: How proud were you of your Frisco teammates, following them from afar and seeing what they accomplished without you and without Profar?
MO: I watched every step of the way and I kept in contact with a bunch of the guys. I knew they didn’t need Profar or myself to win it; they had a great team and great pitching, timely hitting and that’s what we were going to need and we got it for the most part but came up a little short. So that’s tough but it was a great year and I have a lot of good memories there.