Jays' Evan Crawford turning heads
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|Evan Crawford’s motion is unique in that he has added a slight hitch, a momentary hesitation, to his motion that can be deceptive for hitters. (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images/AFP)
It was just a moment in an intersquad game, not even a blip on the radar screen of a baseball season, but you can be absolutely certain it has been filed away in the minds that matter in the Blue Jays braintrust.
In the fourth inning of Friday’s first example of something akin to real baseball, left-handed pitcher Evan Crawford, a 2008 eighth-round draft choice, stepped to the mound.
Crawford, who converted to relief from starting two years ago when he was in low-A Lansing, first faced Kelly Johnson, inducing a groundball out to second base. Next up, Jose Bautista, struck out on three pitches. Then came Adam Lind, who struck out on four pitches.
For most of the participants, it was a sequence that disappeared into a fog of irrelevance almost as it happened. Probably not so for Crawford himself, attending his first major-league camp.
“That was pretty cool,” Crawford said. “There was a little bit of butterflies, little bit of nerves. But, if you lose that, then you’re in trouble because it’s about the love of the game. You want to be good every time you go out. That’s where that nervousness comes from.”
Just a day previous, in talking about the various directions the shape of his bullpen could take this season, manager John Farrell had mentioned Crawford’s name out of the blue as a person of interest. After Crawford’s little demonstration Friday, Farrell was even more enthused.
“Even though it’s just an intersquad game, it was an impressive inning of work,” said the manager. “The one thing that’s clear is he’s not afraid to throw his fastball. He’s got a bright future, coming off a good year. The conversion to the bullpen is one that has set well with him.”
Crawford’s motion is unique in that he has added a slight hitch, a momentary hesitation, to his motion that can be deceptive for hitters.
“I’ll take anything that might trick a batter,” Crawford said. “I started it last year, a little bit. It just kind of helps me to stay on top of the ball, is why I do it. I’m just going to keep riding it out.”
Farrell said that “hitch” may be effective but indicated it might have to be tweaked in some fashion.
“It causes some uneasiness for the hitter when they’re trying to get their timing down,” conceded Farrell. “The one thing that we have to monitor from the pitching side is that extra movement, and does it affect the timing of his delivery. In talking to some of our player development people, when he does get erratic, that hitch may be to blame.”
When preparing for a major-league season, front office types and field personnel have to be aware that, over the course of the year, they’re likely to need 20-22 pitchers, and maybe more if there are a lot of injuries.
That’s why they bring so many pitchers to camp. They’re not just fodder. They’re auditioning to be included on that list of “maybes.”
It all comes down to how a pitcher is doing at the time of need, but it doesn’t hurt for a kid to plant a seed in spring. You never know what opportunity will grow from that seed in August.
The seed that Crawford has already planted is the fact that he can throw his very good curve ball for strikes, a key for any lefty reliever whose job it is to face left-handed batters.
“I learned last year in double A that you have to be able to throw that pitch for a strike,” Crawford said. “You’re not going to come out here and throw a fastball by everybody. It’s a very important pitch for me.”
Crawford also has a mindset that lends itself to the uncertainty of the bullpen.
“I enjoy having the chance to pitch every day,” he said. “That’s fun for me. Not knowing, and trying to be a bulldog every day. That’s something that kind of fits my personality a little bit. I didn’t have too much trouble making the switch.
“A lot of times it’s a big situation and that’s always fun. Obviously it involves a learning curve but we’re still working every day to see what I need to do.”
With that in mind, he is taking advantage of every opportunity in this camp to observe the work habits and pick the brains of the big-leaguers.
“I’ve been working out a lot with (Casey) Janssen,” Crawford said. “He’s helped me out a lot in the weight room and working out. I’ve been watching him and (Darren) Oliver, these older guys, and who better to learn from? They’ve been there and done it and done it well. I’m just trying to soak it all in as much as I’m here.”
That’s a good approach because you never can be certain when that invitation to return will come.