May 8, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
Nationals rookie reliever Matt Grace has only made seven appearances since getting his first call-up on April 22, but so far so good. The 26-year-old lefty is yet to allow a run through four innings and has made the initial adjustment look rather easy.
The former eighth round pick is trying to learn as much as he can as quickly as possible, as he understands it’s one thing to reach the majors, it’s another thing to stay.
“I’m trying to learn things on the fly, learn the little things from guys who have been here. Guys like [Matt] Thornton and [Aaron] Barrett and some of those older guys, [Tanner] Roark and [Drew] Storen, all those guys in the ‘pen. Just trying to pick up things,” he said.
Grace is particularly fond of what Thornton can provide, as the 38-year-old veteran has been around for 12 MLB seasons. Thornton defies his age with high-90s fastballs and it takes lots of hard work to preserve that skill.
“I try to be as close to Thornton as possible and at least just hear what he’s trying to say,” Grace explained. “It’s not an easy thing to do to compete at this level for that long, like he’s done and like a lot of guys on this team have done. You kind of try to pick up things and see what’s made them successful. It is a difficult thing, especially to have that longevity.”
Grace had a breakout season in the Nationals’ minor league system in 2014 with a 1.17 ERA in 50 games across Double-A and Triple-A. That earned him a closer look this spring and early this season when he got the call to Washington.
Grace is one of several Nationals relievers to debut already this year. Sammy Solis, Rafael Martin and Felipe Rivero have also reached the majors for the first time this season, all within one month of each other. Grace says the transition has been easier with those guys around.
“I think it makes it a little easier to be in the same situation as some of the other guys. Like Solis is up here right now and Felipe and some of those younger guys like [Blake] Treinen, who had some experience last year. It makes it a little easier to have guys who are in the same situation you are,” he said.
They are all in the same boat, getting used to the facilities and resources available at the big league level. The difference between the minors and the majors is significant, and Grace is just trying to soak it all in.
“It’s night and day. This is what you strive for. This is why all of us play, to play at this level. Once you get here, you realize why. You realize how special it is and how awesome of an opportunity to be here it is.”
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