Crochet's change in game plan leads to career-high 11-K performance

May 11th, 2024

CHICAGO – Remember those three starts from April 13-24, when the southpaw allowed 17 earned runs over 11 2/3 innings?

Judging by Crochet’s reaction following a 6-3 White Sox victory over the Guardians Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, he has not forgotten.

“I was terrible,” said Crochet with a laugh.

Crochet is a first-year starter, a change from previous bullpen responsibilities he pushed for and was agreed upon by general manager Chris Getz in the offseason. Highs and lows are bound to come during these unchartered waters, even for a hurler as supremely talented as Crochet.

But the good moments have far outweighed the bad for Crochet (3-4), and Game 2 of this four-game set was one of his best. Crochet set a career-high with 11 strikeouts over six scoreless innings without issuing a walk, and throwing 72 of his 97 pitches for strikes. He recorded 21 swings and misses and 13 called strikes over 97 pitches, according to Statcast, with nine whiffs coming off the cutter.

So what has changed for Crochet since that three-start misstep? He has posted 24 strikeouts and yielded three earned runs over his last three starts covering 17 innings.

“Maybe switching up the plan a little bit and being a little bit more unpredictable,” said Crochet, whose 64 strikeouts over his first nine starts broke Chris Sale’s previous franchise record of 60 in 2012. “We've really been preaching first-pitch strikes, two out of threes and getting leadoff outs and I feel like I did a good job of that tonight."

“You can know that a 99-mile-an-hour fastball is coming, but you still can’t hit it,” catcher Korey Lee said. “And that’s the beauty of him -- having that power and also having the cutter and the changeup and the slider in his back pocket.”

While Crochet’s mound dominance earned the deserved notoriety, the White Sox (11-28) also dialed long distance to match their season high of three straight victories.

Lee and Paul DeJong went back to back in the seventh for a 5-1 lead, and after José Ramírez launched a two-run blast in the top of the eighth, Andrew Vaughn connected for a long ball to right-center off reliever Pedro Avila.

Vaughn’s Statcast-estimated 409-foot drive was the 54th of his career. More importantly, it was the first in 2024 and broke a streak of 164 plate appearances without going deep dating back to Sept. 28, 2023 against Arizona. It has been a rough early go for the first baseman, who has a .196 average and .528 OPS, but he has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games.

“You just gotta keep going. That’s kind of what I’ve been told by people I know in this game, coaching staff,” Vaughn said. “Gotta take the little things. I was hitting the ball hard, lining out. I just have to laugh it off and that’s the thing I gotta do. Hit the ball hard and good things will work out.”

“He always wants to follow my lead, and now we’ve got a little race going,” said Lee, who has outhomered his one-time Cal teammate, 4-1. “He had to get that first one out of the way. I’m happy for him. It takes a lot of weight off his shoulders, and now he can just go play free and do what Vaughnie does.”

Cleveland (24-15) sits atop the American League Central, but when Jordan Leasure (second save) finished off his 1 1/3 perfect innings, the White Sox held a 3-2 series edge. They are 5-2 over the last seven overall, 8-6 in the last 14 and 5-3 in their last eight home games.

Friday’s victory on Harry Potter Night began with Crochet casting a spell on the Guardians’ hitters. His innings total through nine starts sits at 46 2/3 innings, which is just under eight innings short of his single-season best at 54 1/3 innings.

Some trips to the mound have been shortened by manager Pedro Grifol for Crochet, with a big-picture, full-season view in mind. With the bullpen short-handed and Crochet dealing, this start was not one of them.

“That’s the best he’s thrown all year,” said Cleveland manager Stephen Vogt of Crochet. “Pounding the zone, that’s been what he’s been struggling with, and he did not tonight. He had everything working. That fastball plays up, too. I think that’s seven feet of extension he gets, which is unbelievable. Credit to him.”

“His body feels good, he feels strong. But I don’t think there’s a blueprint on this one, I really don’t,” Grifol said. “We’re going to have to go on signs and resources that we have, in communication with him. We’ll see how it goes.”