Monday afternoon at FNB Field, Wil Crowe showed why the 24-year-old right-hander is believed by many to be a future cornerstone of the Washington Nationals’ rotation.
Crowe picked up his fifth win against three losses pitching into the eighth inning for the first time this season. The 2017 second round draft pick out of South Carolina held Reading to one run through seven innings before the Fightin Phils plated two more runs on three hits in his final frame of work.
Despite allowing just one run in the early going, Crowe was struggling to command his pitches and get through the Fightin Phils’ order without much traffic on the bases.
“I didn’t have my best stuff,” Crowe said. “My two-seam fastball wasn’t very good. My change-up wasn’t very good. Usually, I can rely on those. My teammates behind me deserve all the credit because I didn’t have my best stuff. I was trying to keep the ball down and get ground balls, and it was working for me today.”
But Crowe found his rhythm, retiring ten straight batters at one point.
“After that third inning, I just got really comfortable flipping in curveballs, flipping in sliders, change-ups, and keeping them off-balance,” Crowe said.
The Tennessee native’s success in 2019 is a return to the basic tenet most pitching coaches preach – throw more strikes, and especially on the first pitch of the at-bat.
Comparing Crowe’s ten starts this season to his five at Double-A at the end of last year, the numbers back it up.
Crowe is throwing more strikes overall (56.8% vs. 67.0%), and getting ahead in the count is allowing him to limit the damage on balls put in play. Last year, Eastern League batters hit .307/.403/.505 off Crowe while this year he’s pitching to a tidy .244/.300/.316 slash line.
“There’s a chart we have that shows 0-1 to 1-0, and it’s so crazy different,” Crowe said. “For me to be as effective as I want, it’s getting to 0-1 and then not going deep. I think when I’m going at my best, it’s early contact and attacking guys going after them.”
As evidence of the success, Crowe threw 21 first-pitch strikes to 30 batters in Monday’s victory, his tenth start of the season for the Harrisburg Senators.
“When you fall behind, you have to throw the ball over the plate,” pitching coach Michael Tejera said. “It’s not good when you’re in a negative count as a pitcher. The hitter is always going to take advantage of that.”
“He wasn’t as sharp as early, but then he had a good mix going, but he kept attacking them,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “Even at the end, he went after them. He didn’t shy away from it. I think last year he would have picked, picked, picked, and instead of them hitting, it would have been a walk.”
Crowe echoed his skipper’s sentiment and added how batters at Double-A take advantage of being ahead in the count.
“I think last year I picked at the zone instead of pounding the zone,” he said. “A lot of times last year I was behind, and then guys at this level can spit on some pitches, they can foul some off, and hit what they want.”
Living in the strike zone and challenging hitters with his best stuff has made a huge difference for Crowe in 2019.
“To get ahead in the count is a big key for me this year,” Crowe said. “I think that’s the turnaround, the reason why I’ve been able to be successful here.”