Matt Grace, a Washington Nationals’ 2010 8th Round draft pick, debuted in the majors in his sixth pro season in 2015, making 26 appearances and throwing 17 innings, over which he put up a 4.24 ERA and a 3.08 FIP with eight walks (4.24 BB/9) and 15 Ks (7.41 K/9).
He talked last winter about getting to the majors and not wanting to leave.
"It does change your mindset,” Grace told reporters. “I think once you get a taste of what it's like in the big leagues and you finally reach that point, you'll do anything possible to get back there and stay there. If you're kind of in the minor leagues, people tell you what it's like to be in the big leagues, but it's a huge privilege, it's a huge honor and everything you've worked towards getting there, it just makes everything worth it."
Grace made it up to the majors for five appearances in 2016, but spent most of the year at Triple-A Syracuse where the recently-turned 28-year-old left-hander put up a 2.85 ERA, a 2.66 FIP, nine walks (1.71 BB/9) and 32 Ks (6.08 K/9) in 47 1⁄3 innings.
“Last year wasn’t, for me personally, wasn’t the most ideal year, just because I would have liked to have been up at least a little bit more,” Grace said.
“That’s just the way things go with this organization, I think, in particular. They had guys performing at high levels, so that’s just how it was. I thought I kind of built on what I did the previous year, and still did what I needed to do in Triple-A.”
Having been in the majors, however, Grace reiterated, all you want do is get back, but you have to succeed wherever you are in order to earn the opportunity.
“It’s not the big leagues,” he said of pitching at Triple-A. “It doesn’t really matter. What matters is when you’re in the big leagues and performing at that level, but outside of that I thought I stayed with my approach and stayed inside myself and did what I needed to do, but definitely would have liked to be up a little more.”
Grace posted a 1.69 ERA and a .242 BAA in 16 IP vs left-handed hitters with the Chiefs, and put up a 3.45 ERA and .310 BAA in 31 1⁄3 IP vs International League right-handers.
As things stand right now, with the departure of left-handers Marc Rzepczynski, Felipe Rivero and Sean Burnett, Grace is one of three lefties on the Nats’ 40-Man roster, so he said he saw an opportunity going into Spring Training, though he’s going to approach it like any other Spring.
“I’m going to treat it like any other year,” he said. “I’m going to go in with the intention of making the team out of Spring Training. I feel like I have the ability to contribute to this team as it stands, but I know this organization expects a lot and expects to win and if you do have that opportunity you have to make the most of it. So I’m looking forward to that, I’m looking forward to helping the team out. I’m looking forward to trying to contribute. That’s all I really care about and all I really want to do and yeah, I feel like I can do that.”
He also talked about potentially changing things up in terms of pitch selection.
“I think I’m going to try throwing my changeup a little bit more, because it was always a pitch for me when I was a starter early on,” he explained.
“And I think it’s something I can go to against righties a little bit more to maybe offset them a little bit and I’m big-time on my sinker because I kind of really need ground balls and movement, but I think I can also mix in a little bit of my straight four-seam. I think it’s just little things like that can actually potentially make a huge difference.
“On lefties, I really feel like I can get lefties out at a pretty high level, even the big leagues, I don’t think that’s a problem, I have no problem with that, but if there’s a situation where they need to get righties out and there’s a situation where they’re not mixing and matching as much, then I need to be able to do that as well.
“So I think that’s something to look at and changeup and maybe some four-seamers inside and a little up in the zone to kind of offset a couple things.”
“There’s always something to work on,” Grace said. “It just comes down to getting the most out of my ability and doing as much as I possibly can to have value to the guys that are making decisions.”