Cubs: Ready for anything, Grimm wants another chance to start

Cubs: Ready for anything, Grimm wants another chance to start
April 7, 2014, 12:15 am
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Tony Andracki

It's not the most conventional way of doing things, but Justin Grimm is willing to take the Jeff Samardzija path to get what he wants.

Grimm is currently in the Cubs' bullpen, but the 25-year-old righty doesn't want to be there forever. He's got his sights set on a rotation spot down the road.

"From my standpoint, I value myself as a starter in the future," Grimm said. "Right now, where my development is at, where I'm at in my process, the bullpen fits me now.

"I definitely think, eventually, I'll go back to starting...We're just going to have to see how it plays out and go from there."

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Like Samardzija, Grimm was selected in the fifth round out of college and began his minor-league career strictly as a starter before getting pigeonholed as a reliever in the big leagues.

Samardzija, the big-name prospect with the $10 million-dollar arm and an All-American resume as a wide receiver at Notre Dame, bet big on himself and petitioned the Cubs front office to give him a chance to start before the 2012 season. They obliged and he has emerged as one of the premier pitchers in the league with frontline potential and minimal wear on his right arm.

Grimm — a University of Georgia product who came to the Cubs from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza deal last summer — doesn't carry the same pedigree, but hopes he can make the same transition as Samardzija one day.

Right now, Grimm is excelling in the Cubs bullpen. He's been a workhorse with four appearances in the first five games and hasn't allowed a run. Between this year and his 10 appearances late last season, the 6-foot-3 righty is sporting a 1.42 ERA as a reliever with the Cubs.

It hasn't been an easy transition. He's used to getting the ball at the beginning of games and working as long as he can. Now, he has to be ready at a moment's notice and is working in short sprints rather than extended outings.

"I'm just ready every time I get the ball. Whether it's the fifth inning or the ninth inning, it doesn't matter," Grimm said. "I'm just taking it an outing at a time.

"I think it's just more of the mindset. Being aggressive, taking it a pitch at a time, one out at a time and just seeing how many outs you can get. You do that as a starter, but coming out of the 'pen, it's just about being more aggressive. And right now, where I'm at in my development, I think it fits my mold."

[MORE - Cubs feeding off Ryan Kalish's all-out approach]

Grimm has had success as a starter in the past, with a 3.28 ERA career ERA in three minor-league seasons. In the Rangers' rotation early last season, he had a 2.28 ERA in his first four starts, but then the wheels started to come off a bit and he finished with a 6.37 ERA in 17 big-league starts.

The Virginia native has a bit of a southern twang and texted former Georgia teammate — and current White Sox infielder — Gordon Beckham to get the lay of the land in Chicago.

When he was first traded to the Cubs, Grimm wasn't sure what was expected of him and admitted he was surprised when he was immediately sent to Triple-A Iowa.

"But they had their plan and their thing going on here already and I understood that," he said. "Being up here last September in the 'pen was good for me and got my confidence up to where it needed to be going into spring training."

He'll need that confidence if he's going to convince the Cubs he can cut it as a starter in the majors.

"I just think there's going to come a point in time when I speak up and say 'Hey, I want to give this a try,' and they'll give me my shot," Grimm said. "I think that's what it will come to.

"Obviously, I'm having some success now in the bullpen and they're seeing that. It was early in my career when I came up and started and maybe I wasn't necessarily quite ready to be a starter in the big leagues.

"Maybe the bullpen would've been a better option for me to start out, like Samardzija did and [former Rangers and current Angels pitcher] C.J. Wilson did."

[MORE - Emilio Bonifacio giving the Cubs the spark they need]

Grimm has four pitches and likes to throw his changeup as a nice complement to his mid-90s fastball.

But right now, the Cubs have no room in their rotation, especially with Jake Arrieta on the mend and close to returning from a shoulder issue. However, the front office has traded away 40 percent of the starting staff the last two seasons and apart from Kyle Hendricks, the organization's top pitching prospects are just now getting a taste of Double-A ball.

It might not be long before Grimm gets his shot, but he's not thinking about that yet. He's just going with the flow and he knows there's more work to be done.

"I'm just taking it day-by-day right now and hopefully build off the success in the bullpen," he said. "And then when the time comes and I feel like I'm ready, maybe I'll talk to them about starting."