An 18th-round pick by the Orioles in 2014 out of Georgia Tech, his latest gem came at home on Saturday night against Carolina when he pitched seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball with eight strikeouts. The same team had seen him six days earlier and he pitched eight shutout innings then.
A 24-year-old from Hoschton, Georgia, Grimes is currently working on a 28-inning scoreless streak dating to May 17. In 11 starts for the Keys this year, he is 7-2 with an ERA of 1.08. He is tied for the Carolina League lead in wins and is second in ERA. Over 66 2/3 innings he has allowed 54 hits with 12 walks, 45 strikeouts and a .223 batting average against.
Over three years removed now from Tommy John surgery, Grimes saw his stuff trending up last year and it sure seems like the trend is continuing. Pitching with a fastball between 89 and 93 mph, sometimes touching a tick or two more, he also throws a curve, changeup and slider.
Last season at Single-A Delmarva he went 10-7 with a 4.14 ERA over 126 innings. But now he is among the leading pitchers in the Carolina League and a promotion to Double-A Bowie may not be far away.
“I’ve developed more of a consistent delivery and I’m throwing my changeup more this year,” Grimes said during our recent interview at Harry Grove Stadium. “And it’s another year out from Tommy John surgery. My arm is feeling even better. I think I have really honed in on the mental side of the game.
“You set the tone early with the fastball. Getting ahead and pounding it inside. The changeup keeps guys off the fastball and makes your breaking pitches that much better. Getting the changeup involved is important. Even if you don’t throw for it a strike but keep it down, it still changes timing for the hitter and that is the whole point, changing timing.
“Plus I like to go right after guys. You hear people say, ‘Well you give up a lot of hits.’ That is because I like to challenge guys and guys will get hits. But with my health, the mental side of things and we have really ironed out my delivery.”
Grimes can easily remember the date of his surgery - it was 10-11-12. He missed all of the 2013 season at Georgia Tech and returned to pitch during the 2014 college season before the draft. He still was not all the way back from the procedure.
“Probably not until 2015,” the 6-foot-5 inch Grimes said. “You are able to pitch in games, but mechanically and mentally you are just not all there. It is a long process. But mechanically I didn’t feel I was where I needed to be.
“Being here with the Orioles with (director of pitching development) Rick Peterson, we’ve become real close. He has definitely helped me with my mechanics and the mental aspects of the game. All the coaches here have been great. Everyone with the Orioles, I love all our coaches. They have definitely helped me put the pieces together and have guided me in the right direction.”
Without even asking him a question about the help he has gotten from Orioles’ coaches, Grimes volunteered that their input has been very valuable and appreciated by him.
“With the amount of pitchers that we have, the one on one time, they still really commit a lot of time to you personally. It is pretty awesome. You really feel appreciated. It’s great. I’ve become pretty close with Rick and all our pitching coaches. I needed some guidance coming back from Tommy John. I am thrilled to be with the Orioles and I love it here,” he said.
Over his last three starts, Grimes has thrown 22 scoreless allowing 10 hits with no walks and 15 strikeouts. Over his past five starts he has given up one run over 35 2/3 innings for an ERA of 0.25. That has lowered his season ERA from 2.03 to 1.08. So, yeah, he is having a pretty strong 2016 season.
The Orioles were the third team to draft Grimes. The White Sox selected him in round four out of high school in 2010 and the Phillies in round 31 in 2013. Did he come close to signing before he went to Georgia Tech?
“Definitely. But I just at the time didn’t feel it was the right opportunity. And I knew I was going to a big-time ACC school and coach Danny Hall has a great reputation. Great coaching staff over there. I think I made the right decision going to school.”
It is the same school that produced O’s catcher Matt Wieters who Grimes sees over the winter.
“We work out at Georgia Tech in the offseason and I have gotten to know him. He’s an awesome guy,” he said.
In addition to the help Grimes has gotten from Orioles instructors, he has found an offseason confidant in Houston Astro right-hander Collin McHugh. A 19-game winner last year, McHugh is a fellow Georgia native.
“He has kind of been like a mentor to me in the offseason,” Grimes said. “He is there, I can ask him questions about pitching. ‘What do you think about this? How do you put a guy away? It is neat to just pick his brain. He is very encouraging to me.”
Encouraged might describe how the Orioles now feel about Grimes and his 2016 season. Not bad for an 18th-round draft pick.
*Photo credit for top picture to Matt Baker
*Photo credit for bottom picture to Tim Jacobsen