No pressure, kid. When Matt Grace woke up on Wednesday, he was a member of the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs' bullpen. The Nationals' top minor league affiliate was scheduled to play an afternoon game against the the Rochester Red Wings. Instead of pitching out of the Chiefs' 'pen, however, Grace was told to get on a flight to Washington, D.C.
Felipe Rivero was being placed on the 15-Day DL with a "GI bleed" and the Nats needed another left-hander for the bullpen.
"Kind of a whirlwind," Grace told reporters, including MASN's Byron Kerr. "I was in Syracuse, game's about to start. Kind of brought me in and said you got to get on a plane and head up here, pretty much the gist of it."
It wasn't going to be that easy, of course. The flight, he explained, was delayed by two hours by a mechanical issue... with a toilet.
"Interesting day for Matt," Nationals' skipper Matt Williams said after the game, a 7-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
"They had a 1:00 day today, so he was fully geared to go for that game, we shut him down and got him here as quickly as we could. He didn't land until after 6:00."
The 26-year-old, ground ball-inducing left-hander, a 2010 8th Round pick out of UCLA, put together an impressive season in 2014, posting a 1.02 ERA, a 2.56 FIP, 12 walks (3.06 BB/9) and 32 Ks (8.15 K/9) in 35 ⅓ IP at Double-A Harrisburg and a 1.30 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 13 walks (2.81 BB/9) and 30 Ks 6.48 K/9) in 41 ⅔ IP at Triple-A Syracuse.
He arrived at Nationals Park twenty minutes before the scheduled start time of the game in which he would end up making his MLB debut.
In the seventh inning of a 5-5 game, Nats' skipper Matt Williams turned to Grace with the St. Louis Cardinals lined up to send two lefties, Matt Carpenter and Jason Heyward, and right-handed slugger Matt Holliday to the plate.
Carpenter and Heyward both grounded out, not surprisingly, against a left-hander who, as the Nationals noted on Twitter, posted a 69% ground ball rate in 2014.
Before Holliday stepped in, Nats' Pitching Coach Steve McCatty visited the mound. The discussion? Don't make a mistake against the Cards' right-handed hitting veteran, who had a career .303/.407/.505 line vs lefties before the at bat.
"Yeah," Matt Williams said after the game, confirming the message McCatty delivered. "'Just make sure we don't make a mistake here. You've got the lefty standing on deck so...' He wanted to pitch around [Holliday] and make sure he didn't leave something out, over for him to hit."
Grace said McCatty "wasn't too happy" with him since he did end up "throwing a couple over the plate" when the plan was, "to sink it off the plate to get him swinging."
He did, however, end up walking Holliday, and then stranded him when left-handed hitting Cards' first baseman Matt Adams sent the third groundout of the inning back to the mound.
He squeezed it a bit, and skipped a throw to first, but Ryan Zimmerman scooped it up.
Grace's major league career started with a quick, scoreless, 15-pitch, 10-strike frame.
"Threw the ball where he wanted to," Williams said. "Pitched around Holliday to get to Adams. Made good pitches. The ball sinks. He threw a couple breaking balls for strikes. Unfazed, which is a good sign."