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Grace's whirlwind day ends with successful MLB debut

Rookie left-hander starts day in Syracuse, tosses scoreless inning of relief

WASHINGTON -- The only Nationals reliever not to allow a run in Wednesday's 7-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals started his day in Syracuse, and ended it making his Major League debut with the labors of air travel in between.

"Kind of a whirlwind," left-hander Matt Grace said.

Based on his play-by-play of the long day, the easiest part was the pitching.

Moments away from starting a day game against the Rochester Red Wings of the International League, Grace learned he needed to hop on a plane because Washington needed another arm before battling the Cardinals of the National League at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Time was on his side, until it wasn't.

"The plane was delayed two hours," Grace informed reporters huddled around his new locker inside the Nationals clubhouse. "I was in a hurry to get here and arrived 20 minutes before the game started. It was a really interesting day."

Also interesting was the reason for the delay.

"First, it was late. Then there was a mechanical issue," Grace explained. "I guess the toilet wouldn't flush. It was just a little added twist to the whole thing."

Here's another: The hectic scenario left the poised 26-year-old without knowledge of the Nationals' plan. It wasn't until he landed that a text message arrived informing him that he was on the roster.

Grace eventually thought enough of the moment to let his parents know the details. Otherwise, there was little time to ponder the big move to the Major Leagues.

"Which is probably a good thing," he noted. "There really wasn't much time to really soak it all in. Just get here and get in the game."

Starter Doug Fister didn't bring his A-game, but he improved as the game moved along. After trailing 5-0 through three innings, Fister exited after six with the game tied.

In came Grace to face the top of the Cardinals' lineup, starting with lefty swingers Matt Carpenter and Jason Heyward. Two groundouts followed, and Nationals manager Matt Williams left Grace in even with righty Matt Holliday due up. With another left-handed batter on deck, the new guy simply pitched around the veteran slugger, leading to a walk, but ultimately, no trouble. Matt Adams also grounded out to end the inning.

"Threw the ball where he wanted to," Williams said of Grace. "Pitched around Holiday to get to Adams. Made good pitches. The ball sinks. He threw a couple of breaking balls for strikes.

"Unfazed, which is a good sign."

Grace showed good signs of progress in 2014, finishing 5-1 with a 1.17 ERA in 50 appearances with Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He allowed three runs in 7 2/3 innings over five games this season at Syracuse.

After his long day, he was finally able to let the day's events sink in.

"It's been a long road. This is why I play, why everyone plays. To be here, to help this team win games. That's the goal. It means a lot. I'm here now. Just trying to stay in whatever role I can. Trying to make pitches. Trying to get outs. Help the Nats."

Pitching scoreless innings of relief will help the Nationals plenty right now.

Benjamin Standig is a contributor to
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