On May 29, 2021, Grant Hartwig gave up seven runs over five innings, pitching for the Miami University RedHawks against Ball State, a typical late season Mid-American Conference matchup.
On June 19, 2023, Hartwig stepped on the mound for the New York Mets. He was relieving future Hall-of-Famer Max Scherzer, who had just gone eight innings against the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
“If you told me all that [two years ago], I’d tell you you’re lying,” Hartwig said.
Hartwig’s road to the bigs
Former RedHawk right-handed pitcher Sam Bachman and Hartwig both played their last year at Miami before the 2021 MLB Draft.
In that draft, Bachman was chosen ninth overall by the Los Angeles Angels, the only first round pick Miami University has ever had in the MLB Amateur draft. Hartwig was at Bachman’s draft party in Oxford, unsure whether he’d hear his name called at all over the next three days and twenty rounds of selections.
“When the draft finished honestly, I wasn’t surprised,” Hartwig said. “I went back home after the party and started studying for my MCAT.”
Soon after not being drafted, Hartwig was in the middle of a practice exam. He was about five hours into it when his phone started to buzz.
He picked up his phone and looked. Random number. He silenced it and carried on with his exam. The phone started to buzz again. Hartwig picked up his phone and looked. Same number. Silenced.
When his phone rang the third time not two minutes later, it was a familiar caller ID. Former Miami pitching coach Matt Passauer.
“I answered the phone and I’m like ‘Hey, what’s up?’” Hartwig said. “I told him I was kind of taking an exam, and he goes, ‘Well I just wanted to give you a heads up, you’re probably gonna get a call here pretty soon,’ and I go, ‘Oh shit, that’s probably the calls I just declined.’”
Hartwig called the random number back. It was the Mets, offering him $20,000 to sign on with them.
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The deal wasn’t a slam dunk decision for Hartwig. He was expecting to get into medical school, and the road to the big leagues for an undrafted free agent isn’t a straight or uncluttered one.
“But also, you know school’s always gonna be there,” Hartwig said. “So you might as well give it a shot, right?”
Unbelievably, when Hartwig got into the professional ranks, his numbers got better. In 154.1 innings for Miami, Hartwig struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings and recorded a 4.32 ERA. In 96.0 minor league innings since joining the Mets organization, Hartwig has struck out 12.3 batters per nine innings and has an ERA of 2.72.
When he joined the Mets, Hartwig was able to work more with new-age pitching analytics, where expensive machines analyze every pitch thrown for metrics like revolutions per minute, rotation axis, spin efficiency and more. Coaches can then analyze data on every pitch players throw and tell them exactly what they need to do to make it move more and get to the batter faster.
It helped Hartwig tear up the minors. He made it to the Triple-A Syracuse Mets, one step away from the majors by the end of 2022, just over a year after going undrafted. He then started the 2023 season in Triple-A as well.
On June 18, 2023, Hartwig was returning to the clubhouse after a Syracuse series-win over the Buffalo Bisons, thinking about what he needed to do to be ready to fly to Durham, North Carolina, the next day for Syracuse’s next series.
“I’m walking to my locker and I hear someone behind me say ‘Grant,’” Hartwig said. “And I thought it was my buddy Mike so I turned around like ‘What?’ And it was my manager. I was like, ‘Oh my god I’m sorry, I thought you were Mike.’ He just laughed and smiled at me and then told me I was going to the big leagues.”
Hartwig said he was in shock. He sat slack-jawed for 10 minutes before calling his family. It was an emotional call. Hartwig had torn his Ulnar Collateral Ligament five years earlier at Miami and underwent Tommy John surgery to repair the ligament. He didn’t return to the mound until Feb. 16, 2020. A month after that, the season was canceled due to COVID-19. Going undrafted wasn’t the only hurdle Hartwig cleared on his journey to the big leagues.
Hartwig got back to Syracuse on the day he got the call at about 8:30 p.m. The next morning he flew to Houston at 5 a.m. and met the team.
“I ended up getting in the game,” Hartwig said. “I was pitching on like two hours of sleep.”
After relieving Scherzer that day, Hartwig allowed a single then induced a double play. Then he walked a batter and induced a ground out. Game over.
“I was pretty calm,” Hartwig said. “That’s what I’ve been doing every single day. I’ve been running out to that same island for years.”
Since then, it’s been up and down for Hartwig. He only allowed one run over his first 11.1 innings pitched in the big leagues. Then he gave up four earned runs over his next two appearances. After a rough August that saw him allow six runs in 7.2 innings, the Mets sent Hartwig back to Syracuse. Thankfully for Hartwig, he’s not unaccustomed to bumps in the road.