The path to the major leagues was turbulent with fits and starts along the way, but in 2022 Michael Grove was able to call himself a big leaguer in a second straight year marked by in-season improvement.
Grove was drafted by the Doodgers in the second round in 2018 out of West Virginia while still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. After making his professional debut in 2019, there was no minor league season in 2020, but Grove was among the fortunate to have at least some semblance of formal instruction and routine at USC, the Dodgers’ alternate training site that year.
The Dodgers added the right-hander to the 40-man roster last November to avoid losing him in the Rule 5 Draft – which never happened, due to the lockout, though nobody knew this outcome at the time – which on its surface raised eyebrows because of Grove’s 7.86 ERA in 71 innings at Double-A Tulsa.
Further examination showed Grove got better as the 2021 season progressed, following a 9.10 ERA and 19.2-percent walk rate in his first 10 games with a 6.97 ERA and 7-percent walk rate over his final 11, to go with a 3.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Home runs remained a problem, allowing 19 on the season, but he was able to limit that to 11 homers allowed between Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2022, in five more minor league innings.
Grove was called up for a spot start on May 15, making his major league debut, the first Dodgers prospect in eight years of the Andrew Friedman-led front office to get the call to the majors directly from Double-A. It didn’t go all that great for Grove, who allowed four runs to the Phillies in 3⅔ innings, though all four were unearned.
This was an inflection point for Grove, who pitched in the majors before Triple-A. He walked five in a shaky debut for Oklahoma City, then allowed three runs in one inning of relief in his second major league appearance. After allowing eight runs in eight innings in his next two Triple-A starts, Grove’s numbers on the season were underwhelming. Though 10 games and 33⅓ innings, Grove had a 4.86 ERA and 12-percent walk rate across three levels, not a recipe for success by any means.
But Grove got better throughout the season, putting up a 3.63 ERA the rest of the way in 16 games and 72 innings with a 5.9-percent walk rate between Oklahoma City and Los Angeles.
That included five more major league games, one a spot start to finish out August followed by an extended stay in the starting rotation over the last three-plus weeks of the season.
Grove never walked more than two batters in any of his final 16 games – 14 of which were starts, plus a pair of bulk outings following an opener – issuing only 18 total walks during that span, the same number of walks he allowed in his first 10 starts and under half the innings.
“I think there’s conviction, there’s trust, for any player once you get to this level to have some success and belief that what you do is good enough. I think he’s starting to feel that,” manager Dave Roberts said of Grove in September. “It’s a leap of faith to trust your stuff and your abilities, to throw your fastball over the plate, to throw the curveball in the strike zone and know that it’s good enough. Those are the kind of things young players gotta see.”
Steals were an issue for Grove, who allowed six thefts in six attempts in just 29 innings with the Dodgers, but there was refinement there as well. Splitting his entire season between the majors and minors in half, Grove allowed 12 steals in his first 13 games and 44⅔ innings, without a caught stealing. In his last 13 games, covering 60⅔ innings, Grove allowed five stolen bases.
In the first year of a limit of five player options per season, Grove was sent to the minors four times. He landed on the injured list on the final Sunday of the season after taking a comebacker off his left knee.
Grove was there to eat innings for the Dodgers down the stretch, helping prevent out-and-out bullpen games by lasting five innings in each of his last four starts. There is still plenty of room for improvement, which is to be expected from a pitcher with only 228 professional innings on his ledger. But as the last two years have shown, Grove is up to the challenge.
Stats: 4.60 ERA, 5.16 FIP, 3.10 xERA, 7 games (6 starts), 29⅓ IP, 24 K, 10 BB
Salary: $700,000 (pro-rated to approximately $116,667 for his time in the majors)
Game of the year
On September 25 against the Cardinals at home, Grove allowed just one run in five innings, and retired 10 of his final 11 batters faced, earning his first major league win. He is the 588th pitcher to record a win for the Dodgers.
Grove also became the answer to a trivia question as the pitcher who got the victory preceding the Dodgers’ lone three-inning save of 2022.
Grove has 31 days of major league service time and two option years remaining, having used an option in 2022.