If his recent performance is any indication, Jonathon Crawford is going to make life fairly difficult for opposing lineups during the Midwest League playoffs.
In his final regular-season start, the Tigers' third-ranked prospect gave up three hits over seven innings Saturday as Class A West Michigan edged visiting Great Lakes, 1-0.
Crawford issued one walk and recorded six strikeouts in matching the longest outing of his career.
"My main goal is just to go deep into the game and keep my hitters in it, keep the team in it," he said. "I was just really competitive. My fastball command was pretty good. I was locating it on both sides of the plate. Early on, my slider was good and sharp, and I was able to locate that down and away to righties, get two strikeouts."
The 2013 first-round pick (No. 20 overall) has not yielded more than three earned runs in any of his past nine outings. Over his last three turns, he's given up only five hits and three runs with 16 strikeouts and seven walks across 19 innings.
"The second half has been up and down," Crawford said. "I've had a couple bad starts, I've had a couple good starts. It was really good to, in my last few starts, to finish up on a good note."
His upward trend spells good news for the Whitecaps, who guaranteed themselves a playoff berth by winning the Eastern Division first-half championship.
Against the Loons, Crawford walked Paul Hoenecke in the second inning and allowed a single to Jose Capellan in the third, another base hit to Alex Santana in the fifth and a double to Josmar Cordero in the seventh. He also hit Leo Rodriguez with a pitch in the fourth.
The 22-year-old right-hander threw 52 of 79 pitches for strikes and induced seven groundouts and five flyouts while facing four batters over the minimum.
"I had better command of my pitches tonight, as opposed to other nights," the University of Florida product said. "But I'd say my stuff was about the same as every other night. Maybe the fastball wasn't as hard."
In 23 starts this season, Crawford is 8-3 with a 2.85 ERA while racking up 85 strikeouts against 50 walks over 123 innings. He ranks fifth in the league in WHIP (1.16) and opponents' batting average (.220).
"These last few starts, fastball command was better, slider was sharp -- it was like it was when I was back in college or last year," Crawford said. "And then just composure on the mound. Early on, I was kind of a little emotional and showed emotion on the mound, and that's not really a good thing for a pitcher to do that. Especially this last start, I definitely improved on that."
Neither team scored through five innings Saturday. Following a 1-2-3 frame by Crawford in the top of the sixth, Loons starter Zachary Bird got into trouble. Bennett Pickar led off with a single and, after Wynton Bernard went down swinging, Javier Betancourt roped a double and Michael Gerber lined a run-scoring single.
Bird (6-17) was charged with a run and six hits over 5 1/3 innings, striking out five without issuing a walk.
For the Whitecaps, rehabbing Tigers righty Luke Putkonen allowed a hit in the eighth and Zac Reininger struck out two in the ninth for his 11th save, sealing the club's 10th shutout of the season.