Bob Lutz

Grimes might need break from the field

If I were Wichita State's baseball coach, here's what I'd tell Tyler Grimes before tonight's game against Oral Roberts. I'd walk right up to the Shockers' sophomore shortstop and say: "You know, Tyler, I think you need a night off from playing shortstop. I want to DH you, let you get a little different feel for the game. I still want you in that leadoff spot, still want you to be our offensive sparkplug. But I'm going to give you a night off from playing shortstop."

Then I'd prepare myself for a right hook from Grimes, knowing his reaction to such a suggestion would not necessarily be peaceful.

But Grimes might surprise me. After having made 28 errors in 52 consecutive starts at shortstop — he's been in there for every game this season — he might accept a night away from the position.

So, Tyler, are you going to hit me?

"No, I would respect that decision,'' Grimes said after practice Monday. "At least I'm still in the lineup, trying to do something to help our team out. But I would miss being out there playing defense and trying to get my confidence back. At the same time, I would understand just being able to sit back and enjoy a game.''

Nobody has a last name that better suites his demeanor or style of play. Grimes is grimy and all of these errors are weighing on him.

He doesn't understand why he's making so many — two more on one play during a 12-3 win over Creighton on Sunday afternoon at Eck Stadium. He can still be a spectacular defensive player, but all of the mistakes have worn him down mentally, he admits.

Which is why I'd give him a break. For one game. Let him change up the routine. What harm would it do?

"The errors and everything, obviously that's in the back of my mind,'' said Grimes, who leads the team in on-base percentage (.482), walks (46), runs (59) and stolen bases (23). And, of course, he's far and away the leader in being hit by pitches, having been plunked 16 times.

Everything about Grimes is the same as it's always been, except his glove work and throwing. He's out of sorts defensively, unsure of himself.

"I want to do something to get my defensive rhythm back,'' Grimes said. "I want to get as much repetition as I can get, being in the right place at the right time. It's been tough, but it's part of the game.''

Grimes couldn't have handled such a defensive meltdown two seasons ago, he said.

"I would have had a mental breakdown,'' he insists.

Now, while it's bewildering and difficult, he perseveres. He goes to his position for every game, every inning, expecting the best. But he's lacking the confidence that the best defensive players have. And worst of all is that he doesn't know how to get it back.

Grimes takes countless groundballs before games and during practices. He's even toying with the idea of finding a little-used diamond in a school yard or going to his family's property in the country near Colwich and asking his father to hit him one hard grounder after another on surfaces that cannot be trusted.

The true-hop artificial surface at Eck Stadium drives a player like Grimes crazy. He's all about dirt. This kid never went home after a baseball game with a clean uniform.

"I'd rather be playing on a dirt infield because at the next level, most of the fields are going to be dirt,'' said Grimes, who is eligible for the June draft and should be chosen relatively high even with the defensive slump. "You don't see many turf infields in the pros.''

Grimes has a rocket arm that has been more erratic this season than ever before. His decision making has been hit and miss. When he makes the right decision — as he did Saturday in trying to cut down a Creighton baserunner at third after fielding a grounder — things backfire. His throw was high and the runner was safe.

Another error.

Even when Grimes makes a difficult play — and he makes plenty — there is a price to pay. Fans discouraged by his inability to be consistent defensively get on him.

"Some fans look to nag,'' Grimes said. "And that's fine, I understand. It's really easy to be a fan, more so than it is to be a player. But not a lot of people out here realize or understand how I am or how aggressive I am toward the game. Offensively, defensively, I have a passion for the game. I don't go out there thinking about making errors. I'm trying to do the best I can for the team.''

There is no give in Grimes. He plays with the same intensity every day. You'd have to chain him down to get him off the field.

It's worth a try.

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