Crowe promising on the mound, at the plate

May 2nd, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- Though he ended up on the losing end of Sunday’s series finale against the Cardinals at PNC Park, began to show signs of being the type of starter the Pirates think he can be.

In his second start with Pittsburgh, Crowe went five innings vs. St. Louis, allowing three runs in the 3-0 loss. The greatest damage against Crowe’s line came on one pitch: a hanging slider to Harrison Bader in the second inning that the center fielder sent a Statcast-estimated 425 feet to left field for a three-run homer.

“I threw a hanging slider that to me felt good, but it being early in the game, still trying to feel what's going and what's not,” Crowe said. “I threw an easy one to hit. [Hitters will] drop the head on that pitch, and he did what he was supposed to do.”

That mid-zone slider was only one mistake in a day of inconsistent offspeed command that led to four walks, such as the one drawn by Paul DeJong to begin a 41-pitch second inning that made the difference in the game.

“The execution of his offspeed stuff was very sporadic,” manager Derek Shelton said, “but he was able to bounce back and keep down a very good lineup. One swing of the bat was the whole game in this situation.”

One reassuring sign in Crowe’s start was the steep velocity gain he showed. The Pirates’ No. 23 prospect was routinely throwing faster than his highest recorded pitch velocity in MLB entering Sunday (a 94.3 mph fastball on April 25). He reached back to fire a 96.6 mph strike to Carlos Martínez in the fourth inning, the fastest pitch of his career.

All in all, Crowe threw 38 pitches faster than his previous velocity watermark, and he needed the uptick in order to be effective and keep the Pirates in the game. With his offspeed pitches not landing where he wanted them, he threw his fastballs -- a four-seamer and sinker -- at a 65% clip over the final two innings. The average usage of his two fastballs combined is 30.2% this season.

“I wouldn't think I was doing anything different,” Crowe said of the uptick. “I think last year, I wasn't my best self, the way I felt in my body, from the whole dealing with [COVID-19] stuff. So [the velocity] is in there.”

Crowe also grew into the game and was able to get to 97 pitches before he was lifted. Between the third and fifth innings, he allowed a hit and a walk and hit one batter to keep the deficit at three runs. 

In the National League game, Crowe is also working to show he has a step on other pitchers at the plate. He hit for himself to lead off the fifth inning despite being pulled thereafter for right-hander Luis Oviedo. The number one reason Shelton provided for that decision? 

“He’s our best hitting pitcher,” said Shelton.

“For me, that’s an advantage I can get on some guys. I bust my butt hitting as much as I do pitching,” Crowe said. “I think that’s something that ... gets you another inning, that gets you another 20 pitches, that gets you to the third time around. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Crowe drove a single to left field on the first pitch he saw in the Majors to begin the third inning to try to set up a rally. Adam Frazier hit a single the next at-bat, but Bryan Reynolds struck out and Colin Moran hit into a double play -- one of three for the Pirates on the day -- to end the threat.

But Crowe’s hitting prowess wasn’t lost on his team, nor his wife, Hilary, who announced Saturday that the couple is expecting a baby boy in October.

“When I get back to my phone, she sends me, ‘Wow, you’re a hitter, too,’” Crowe said. “I just laugh. I can’t say anything back.”

The enhanced velocity and the ability to give clean innings without his best stuff are signs the Pirates are happy to see out of one of their top starting pitching prospects, whom they acquired from the Nationals for Josh Bell on Christmas Eve. Crowe was ranked as high as No. 4 in Washington’s system before coming to Pittsburgh as the No. 23 prospect -- partly due to strength of system, and partly due to lower evaluations after he struggled in his first taste of MLB action.

“Progress isn’t always the end result,” Crowe said. “You’re getting better. … I didn’t have my best stuff and I was able to get through the lineup almost three times. I threw five innings. That just shows you that when I do have my best stuff, I’m more than capable of going six, seven, eight innings.”