Wheeling Park and WVU Product Michael Grove To Make Professional Baseball Debut Tonight
Park, WVU product will pitch for Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
To say that today has been a long time coming for Michael Grove wouldn’t be doing it justice.
It’s been almost two years since the Wheeling Park and West Virginia University product toed the pitching rubber as a starting pitcher in a real game.
Actually, the exact date of Grove’s last start was April 22, 2017 against Kansas State at the Monongalia County Ballpark in Morgantown.
That changes tonight, however, when Grove makes his professional debut on the mound for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, which is the Class A Advanced team for the Los Angeles Dodgers, against Visalia in a game that will begin at 9 p.m. eastern time.
“I am really looking forward to (the start),” Grove said during a phone interview last week. “I feel great. My arm is in great shape. I really have no complaints.”
While this is Grove’s first official start, he did pitch in several spring training games throughout March.
“I am really anxious to get back out there,” Grove said. “Though I pitched in spring training, it’s not the same with the fans, music and that kind of stuff. I am planning to treat it the same way that I have before.”
Clearly Grove impressed the Dodgers brass enough during camp to earn a spot on the Quakes’ roster. He could have been dispatched to low A ball or even held back for the rookie league teams, which begin in a couple of months.
“I spent a lot of time in spring training re-learning some stuff,” Grove said. “I’ve been gradually taking baby steps the whole way. I was trying, originally, to focus on control and how my pitches feel coming out of my hand. Then I started working more on locating and really setting up the hitters and working counts. It’s just a process.”
Grove expects to spend the entire season with the Quakes and hasn’t put himself on any timetable for his advancement through the Dodgers’ system. He also understands that his win-loss and even earned run average aren’t that important this season.
“It’s more about how I feel,” Grove said. “The (organization) wants to me to kind of take it slow and then starting next year, we’ll really start amping it up and then we’ll see how everything goes.”
One thing Grove does know about this season is he will be limited to around 100 innings for the season. The Dodgers would rather him get consistent work throughout the season than eat up those innings in the first few months and be shut down.
“The training staff sets that number (of innings) and it comes through a lot of research,” Grove said. “Honestly, this will be considered a good season if I don’t have any setbacks and continually get better. To me, success would be about getting back to where I was before.”
Grove, who signed a contract with the Dodgers that included a $1.2M signing bonus, said his velocity is continuing to climb back to the neighborhood it was during his collegiate days. That’s another good sign for his health.
“It’s close,” Grove said. “It’s still down a little bit, but it’s creeping back up through spring training. I would say in a month or two, it will be back to where it was.”
Though it’s improving, Grove is continuing to work on his entire repertoire, which includes utilizing a change up more effectively.
“I am kind of forcing myself to use it,” Grove said. “It’s really more about finding where everything plays in the zone. The Dodgers are leading the (MLB) charge in analytics and we’re trying to figure out where my stuff is most effective to try to play toward that.”
Grove is in a solid spot to learn the ropes of professional baseball. The Quakes, who were 2-1 entering Sunday’s game, won the California League championship in 2018 and have a large portion of their roster back.
“It’s a really fun group of guys to be around,” Grove said. “We’re all really laid back and I think we’re going to have a pretty good team.”