Sometimes in independent baseball, you have to get creative to win.
That’s exactly what the Ottawa Titans and starting pitcher Evans Grills are doing this season. With a young family in his care, Grills has decided to only play games in Canada in 2022, and with the full support of his manager and his teammates, Grills took to the field for the first time in the young season, tossing a gem of a game against the Evansville Otters on Tuesday night.
The Titans took the victory, outscoring the Otters 2-0, but the headlines were made by Grills, who tossed eight innings of shutout ball, while sitting down 15 Otters, walking just two, and throwing 108 pitches.
“That was the game plan, go out there and have Grills throw eight innings with 15 strikeouts,” said Titans manager Bobby Brown with a smile and a laugh, obviously joking. “He was terrific. He wanted to pitch at home, and we worked it out. This is what we envisioned of him, being our ace all season long.”
“I just go out there and try to throw strikes,” Grills said. “In the first inning, I had some nerves, I always have nerves. Ty Greene called a great game too, we were always on the same page. I had all four pitches tonight. Our job as pitchers is to keep the hitters off-balance, so if you have all four, it makes life easier.”
In some clubhouses, a player signed to only play just over half of a team’s games could come with some internal issues. Luckily for Grills, he says this isn’t one of those situations, and he feels fully supported by the rest of the team.
“This is great,” Grills said. “I always love independent ball because you are competing to win. If we win, we’re all doing good, as opposed to minor league baseball where if you do good, then you get moved up. I feel no disconnect. I stay in the group chat, and I actually miss them when they are gone. It’s a little break from the family life.”
There’s no question that the Titans would love to have Grills on the road with them, but there won’t be any pressure put on him to do that.
“He’s got family obligations and stuff to do here in Ottawa,” Brown said. “The deal we made was he is going to pitch in all of the Canadian cities, and if we’re lucky enough to be playing in the postseason, he said he would come and make a start for us on the road.”
Grills may not be with the team full time this season, but his big game was important for the Titans in more ways than just winning. With a short rotation on their nine-game road trip, Brown had to use his bullpen with some regularity, including a game in Florence where he used five pitchers during a 21-9 loss at the hands of the Y’alls. This start allowed the Titans to give some of their relievers the night off, something Brown believes will help them on their homestand.
“Early in the year, a lot of our starters have been going five or six innings,” he said. “To get eight for Grills today bodes well for the rest of the homestand.”
Offensively, the Titans didn’t need much thanks to Grills’ strong outing. Newly-signed outfielder Jacob Sanford got Ottawa rolling, belting a double into right field in the first inning, scoring Rodrigo Orozco, and giving the home side a 1-0 lead. In the third inning, A.J. Wright blasted his fourth home run of the season, giving Ottawa a 2-0 lead, and it was all they would need.
In the preseason, Wright hit another home run, and after the game said “I’m not typically a power hitter,” but Brown isn’t buying that after his hot start to the season.
“He’s got some power, don’t let him fool you,” Brown said, responding to Wright’s preseason comment. “He’s a little gut with some power in the bat.”
Nearly 2,500 people came out to RCGT Park to see the Titans win their first-ever home game, officially marking the return of baseball to the nation’s capital. It’s obvious there’s a love for baseball in the city, and Brown is thankful to share that with the people of Ottawa.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “They were into it. When Wright hit the home run, it sounded like there were 5,000 people there.”
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