Nov. 7, 2008
By Laura Rasmussen-Media Relations Student Assistant
Lobos head coach Ray Birmingham finds comfort beyond the left field wall at Isotopes Park.
Birmingham, who brought the duo to New Mexico as junior college transfers last year, said the pair is worth paying attention to.
"A lot of people didn't realize it, but those two were big in making this team so successful last year," he said. "And we are counting on them big time this year. It is a comfort to know that they are in the bullpen to finish it off."
Sounds like a lot of pressure, but the task couldn't be suited for anyone better than Cox and Grubbs, who willingly carry the responsibility.
The tandem teamed up last year to anchor the backend of the Lobos bullpen with Grubbs entering in the seventh or eighth and Cox coming in to close it out in the ninth. In 2008, Cox appeared in 26 games, fanning 32, and Grubbs in 19 with 24 Ks.
Fortunately for the Lobos the two are not only good at their relief roles, they enjoy them.
"Obviously if you don't like pressure it is not a good situation to be in," Cox said. "But without the pressure, I don't think I am as good."
"You always have to be ready because you are not sure exactly when you will be in, which is probably the most fun part," Grubbs said.
Pitching or personalities, Cox and Grubbs could not complement each other better. Birmingham said the two, who are also roommates and best friends, both bring different methods to the mound, a perfect combination for late innings.
"One throws a different style than the other," he said. "By the time you figure out one, the other comes in with a different look. There is no way to make an adjustment. Those two together make our games six-inning ball games."
While Cox, from Rock Springs, Wyo., relies more on his fastball and changeup and throws a little harder, Grubbs, a Reno, Nev., native, uses a sinker and slider to mix hitters up.
"There are some guys who just throw the ball up there, but Daniel makes pitching fun to watch," Birmingham said. "He can really locate."
More importantly, the two understand how to pitch in the position they are in, using unconventional strengths to notch critical late-inning outs.
"I don't have closer stuff," Cox said. "I am not going to throw 98 mph and blow you away. I am a strike thrower, and I don't walk a lot of people. I like to get people out in as few pitches as I can to save my energy."
Both agree that control is key.
Cox and Grubbs issued only 19 free passes in 74.2 innings between the two of them in 2008, Cox had 12 walks over 44.1 innings, while Grubbs only allowed seven in 30.1 innings.
"I am pretty much setting up for Clinton to come in, trying to keep us in the game for that seventh or eighth inning depending on what the situation is," said Grubbs, who has pitched relief the past three years. "I am just transferring from the starter to Clinton to come in and game over."
"I take pride in finishing a game for a starter," adds Cox, who collected four saves and three wins in 2008. "I take it upon myself to make sure he gets that `W' by his name."
The two are as likely to shrug off their impact and not bask in the spotlight as they are to close out a game.
"They just go out and do their job like a workman," Birmingham said. "They stayed under the radar last year. Everyone was talking about the hitters or starting pitchers, but one of the biggest pieces last year was those two. We could have lost some games late without them."
Birmingham said the pair emerged as a pleasant surprise last season, rising to the challenge of capturing their full potential while helping lead the Lobos to a 34-25 finish.
"The one thing with Clinton is he probably wasn't near as confident," Birmingham said. "I believed his ability was way higher than he thought it would be. I think with every day, he gets better and realizes it."
Birmingham credits reaching that potential not only to the pair's talent, but their mental toughness.
"They keep a stern face. They just go to work," he said. "Those two guys could sit in the middle of a nuclear mushroom drinking iced tea, that is how calm they are. They are unselfish. And they are very low key."
Low key until the seventh inning rolls around, when, like typical bullpen pitchers, they know the moment to get the adrenaline going.
They wait for it. They are ready for it. They thrive on it.
"It makes me better for the first seven innings to be out there without a care in the world," Cox said. "As the game starts to get close, and I know I have a chance to get in, though, I flip on the mental switch, and it is time to get serious."
"We like to compete," adds Grubbs. "I like the way Clinton carries himself on the mound. He gets fiery when he goes out there. I like that and I think our whole team likes that. When I know he is coming in, I get a little more fiery when I am in there just based on how he acts. He is not scared of anyone when he is on the mound."
With solid seniors manning the Lobos bullpen, Birmingham can't help but feel a sense of comfort.
"They bring more to this team than just their ability to pitch, too," he said. "Their leadership, professionalism and work ethics are outstanding. They are probably the biggest part of our baseball team going into next year."
And whether it's Grubbs or Cox emerging from that left field bullpen in 2009, one thing is for sure - they will make it worth paying attention.