July 11—When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Wil Crowe from the starting rotation to a relief role last spring, the right-hander brought to the bullpen a brash attitude of greeting opponents with a four-letter word. .
And it wasn’t save or keep.
Not only did Crowe embrace the move, but he embraced a bulldog mentality as he transitioned from a multi-inning role to a high-leverage reliever whose pitching repertoire also took a dramatic turn. He is as quick to aim an F-bomb at his opponents as he is eager to score a K against them.
“When I get on the mound, the guy I’m facing tries to take food off my plate. I don’t like it because it takes food off my wife’s plate, off the plate my son and my family’s plate,” Crowe said. . “So when I go out, it’s a ‘(expletive) you’ because they’re trying to take what’s mine. At the same time, they’re probably saying the same thing. It’s a personal thing for me. Just get out there, be aggressive and have fun, but at the same time they’re trying to take food off my plate, so (expletive) them.”
Crowe pondered how to feed his family when he was approached by manager Derek Shelton, pitching coach Oscar Marin, bullpen coach Justin Meccage and analyst Jeremy Bleich during the training on the move to the bullpen. After leading the Pirates pitcher with 25 starts while going 4-8 with a 5.48 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 116 2/3 innings last year, Crowe was initially not happy with be taken out of rotation.
As Shelton explained, they thought it would be a natural transition for Crowe because he liked to throw more between outings than the typical starter. The Pirates coaches tried to convince Crowe that getting out of the bullpen would be good for him by fueling his competitive edge more frequently.
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Crowe’s early results did the trick: he didn’t allow a run in his first 12 innings in five appearances and finished April with two earned runs while striking out 17 runs in 15 2/3 innings. He notched his first career save, allowing one hit and striking out four in three scoreless innings in a 6-2 win over the Chicago Cubs on April 13. Crowe also had five strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings in a 4-3 win over the Cubs on April 21.
“Once we started creating the role and cast him in the role early on, he had some success,” Shelton said, “and I think he really bought into it.”
The key for Crowe was to buy into the analysis and adapt. He threw a four-seam fastball on 35% of his pitches as a starter last year, when opponents hit it at an average of .328, per Statcast, so Crowe has cut his usage in half this season. . He made what his teammates call a Bugs Bunny change to his stash slot, increasing his usage from 18% to 30% while relying more on his slider (29%) and lead (21%).
“I’m sure guys know this, but my right four seams last year were bottom five in the league. My left four seams, however, were in the 10%. So why would I come to right handed with a four -the crimper when crushed?” Crowe said. “I’m not going to play this game with these guys. I throw the four seam right-handed; I just throw it in different places. Last year I was trying to throw it everywhere. Now I throw it in certain areas The bulldog mentality is more, ‘I’m coming to you.’ It doesn’t have to be with the hard stuff. It’s with my stuff. That’s how I take it: I’ll sue you with what I do well. If you catch me, you catch me. but I’ll trust my (stuff) and it’ll get you.”
The results have been impressive. Batting averages against Crowe have dropped, especially against his slider (.132) and warmer (.192). His hard hitting rate has gone from 37.1% last season to 21.4% this year, which ranks him in the 100th percentile.
After a tough June, when he gave up eight points in four games between June 18-28 and had a 5.93 ERA in 10 appearances, Crowe has been mostly dominant this month. He allowed one run on four hits and two walks while striking out three in 5 1/3 innings to record five straight strikes. In the 5-2 win over the New York Yankees on July 5, he responded to the giving up of a single and a walk by forcing Aaron Judge into a 4-6 double play- 3 to end a goal threat. Crowe retired the Milwaukee Brewers in order in the eighth inning of a 4-3 victory on Saturday.
“It’s not an easy transition for a guy like that, to start being in the bullpen like that, but he took it and ran with it. It was cool to see,” the closest said of the Pirates, David Bednar, who was selected for the all-star game on Sunday. “It just goes to that mentality of going after guys. I think he broke free and just took that mentality back. Once he had success, he kept building and building at from there.
“Things have always been nasty. It’s cool to see confidence come with it. As you succeed, it’s easier to be more confident. What we’re seeing now is the result of that.”
No wonder Crowe’s confidence has increased and he’s playing his favorite pitches like he does with the Red Bulls ahead of an appearance. Not having to worry about facing a formation repeatedly allowed Crowe to go higher on his fastball.
“Being in the bullpen, you’re a bit shorter (on the sleeves), so the intent is a lot higher,” Crowe said. “You don’t have to worry about the second or third time. You just attack them. It’s a lot easier to pull it off. I can get a little psycho and angry anytime and just go after people and having that funky mentality from the very first step.
“It changed my perspective a bit. It showed me that when things change, how to deal with it. I really appreciate that. I have a lot of fun. I value my time. I think I “I’ve found a role and a place and I’m enjoying where I am right now. I just want it to continue.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter.
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