June 17, 2012

Justin Grimm proves up to challenge for Texas Rangers

Justin Grimm shines in his major league debut for the Rangers.

ARLINGTON -- He couldn't eat very much at breakfast or lunch. He then warmed up in the bullpen, and heard a countless number of fans chant his name.

The butterflies and jitters were certainly reverberating inside Justin Grimm well before he threw his first big league pitch. Once he did, the nerves started to settle down and he did what the Texas Rangers believed he could do.

Grimm turned in an impressive debut, as his quality start helped the Rangers to an 8-3 victory over the Houston Astros on Saturday night at Rangers Ballpark. Texas clinched the Silver Boot for the sixth consecutive year and has won five of its last six games.

"I was really happy with it," said Grimm, who received the traditional beer shower afterward. "Just really excited with it. I just told myself to make the same pitches. Just got a little bit better offense and defense."

The jitters were evident in the first inning.

Grimm gave up a single to the first batter he faced, Jordan Schafer, but he responded by getting Jose Altuve to fly out. Then Rangers catcher Mike Napoli gunned down Schafer trying to steal second.

That saved a run when Jed Lowrie belted a solo home run in the next at-bat. The homer didn't shake Grimm's confidence, though. He went on to strike out the next five batters. He's the first pitcher in franchise history to strike out five consecutive batters in his major league debut.

"That first inning was by far the hardest inning I've thrown in my entire career, throwing in front of 50,000 for the first time," Grimm said. "Very jittery. I just had to stay within myself."

Grimm worked out of a jam in the fourth. With a runner on third and one out, Grimm struck out Brett Wallace and popped up Chris Johnson to end the threat. In the fifth, the Astros scored two runs. Justin Maxwell had an RBI double, and Schafer added a run-scoring single.

Grimm bounced back with a 1-2-3 sixth and finished his night allowing three runs on six hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. Grimm is the first pitcher with no walks and at least seven strikeouts in his debut since Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg did it on June 8, 2010.

"I can't compare myself to that guy," said Grimm, who threw 88 pitches, 56 for strikes. "He's got some really good stuff."

Grimm had good stuff Saturday, too, using his breaking ball effectively. He trusted Napoli to guide him through the game, and it went well.

"He did a great job," Napoli said. "He didn't seem real nervous. I told him it's OK to be nervous, it's normal. When you get out there, you'll settle in, and he did a great job.

"I like being a part of something like that and seeing him get through that. He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to come back, and that's what you want."

The Rangers came back in the bottom of the sixth against Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell, who had shut them down the first five innings.

Craig Gentry and Ian Kinsler led off with singles, and Elvis Andrus advanced each runner with a sacrifice bunt. Michael Young sent a sharp grounder back to the mound, but the Astros couldn't execute a rundown to get Gentry.

That loaded the bases, and Adrian Beltre ripped a two-run single to left. Nelson Cruz followed by booming a three-run home run into the visiting bullpen to cap off the five-run inning.

"[Harrell] was dealing the first five innings, and we finally got men on base and everything started to come together," Cruz said.

The scoring outburst put Grimm in line for the victory, and the Rangers cushioned their lead with two runs in the seventh and one in the eighth.

So, after the impressive debut, has Grimm bought himself another start in the big leagues?

"We'll just have to wait and see. I don't have anything definitive," manager Ron Washington said. "He performed. So, because he performed, he's in consideration."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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