Joe Maddon calls Justin Grimm the 'middle innings closer'

"I love the middle innings closer, man," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Justin Grimm. "I think that's such an underrated part of the bullpen." Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Quick, which Chicago Cubs reliever has entered the game the most this season with runners on base? It shouldn't take you more than a second to realize it's all-purpose righty Justin Grimm. In exactly half of his appearances this season -- 21 -- he's came on with men on-base. Talk about trust from his manager? That's nearly the very definition of it for a middle man. No other reliever on the Cubs is even close in entering games with men on-base. More times than not Grimm has shut the door.

"How about Grimm yesterday?" manager Joe Maddon said Sunday before the Cubs played the White Sox. "Oh my God. Those (radar) numbers are heavy up on the board there and the command is there and the breaking ball is there."

Maddon made those remarks unsolicited so you know Grimm was on his mind. He had similar praise after the game Saturday when Grimm entered in the seventh inning with -- you guessed it -- a man on base. He gave up a ground ball hit to Jose Abreu but not before hitting 98 mph on the radar gun. The hit actually came on a curveball which has been Grimm's "out pitch."

"I got the pitch and ground ball I wanted," Grimm said. "He just found a hole."

Grimm, who turned 27 on Sunday, has become Maddon's most trusted middle reliever -- or the "middle innings closer" as Maddon put it -- not that he hasn't thrown late in games as well. It wasn't long ago he earned a win against the San Francisco Giants after entering the game in the fifth inning, and then got a save against them a couple days later.

"It really helps in that aspect because I don't have time to think about it," Grimm said about coming into the game at any time.

For the season Grimm has allowed 24 percent of inherited runners to score but that's misleading. He was hurt the first month and took a while to find his groove. Since June that percentage is just 16 percent -- though he does have eight wild pitches, the same total he had all of last year.

"I know I have a lot of wild pitches," Grimm said. "They (catchers) know it's (curveball) going to be in the dirt, I know it's going to be in the dirt with two strikes. We're looking for a swing-and-miss."

Swing-and-miss is not Grimm's problem. He has 49 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings with a 1.34 ERA. It makes him an intriguing option down the stretch as he might obviously be the best-suited reliever for when Maddon needs a whiff in a specific moment.

"That can be so big moving it down the road," Maddon said. "You don't want to relinquish leads and the other part is you want to maintain small deficits."

Grimm's confidence is sky-high right now. Maybe higher than at any point in his young career. If he needed the trust of his bosses to reach another level, well, he's got that down.

"I love the middle innings closer, man," Maddon said. "I think that's such an underrated part of the bullpen."

Grimm is probably underrated as well -- considering his role on the team, he's as important as anyone.

"I'm more aggressive," he said. "The confidence is kind of really high. They go hand in hand with each other."