Hans Crouse was excited for the reins to be taken off Friday night.
The Rangers' fourth-ranked prospect retired his final 17 batters, gave up one hit and recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings as Class A Short Season Spokane edged Eugene, 2-1, at Avista Stadium. It was the first time he lasted longer than 5 1/3 innings in 11 professional starts.
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"This was definitely really big for me," Crouse said. "Moving into starting pitching in the Minors, guys are going to be looking for consistency and being able to continuely find that groove. We just started with a really good game plan tonight, and things rolled from there."
The right-hander experienced mixed results in extended starts this season. After giving up two hits and two walks over five scoreless frames on June 27 against Everett, he surrendered four runs and five hits, including a homer, in 5 1/3 innings on July 3 at Hillsboro.
"But I'm a person that has a lot of confidence in myself every time I take the ball out there," he said. "I feel like something special is going to happen, and when the reins came off tonight, I could do as much as I needed to build up a lot of innings and pitches to work with."
Along with catcher Isaias Quiroz, Crouse put together a methodical plan that involved establishing his 70-grade fastball during his first run through the Eugene lineup, placing the heater inside for right-handed hitters with pinpoint accuracy. The 2017 second-round pick cruised through the first while fanning Luis Diaz and Tyler Durna.
In the second, he got his only opportunity to hone a major point of emphasis. Beyond adding velocity to his fastball, shaping his slider or shoring up his changeup, Crouse said he wants to find more consistency in his approach with runners on base. With one out, he gave up his only baserunner of the night as Jonathan Sierra lined a two-out double to center field.
"I want to try and control the game," the California native said. "I'm working on varying my looks and my pickoff moves. Sure, it helps when no one is on, but I honestly know it's not always going to be like that in every outing. I don't hope for it, but I know I need to work on the worst situations possible. That's when your most important pitches have to be on and you have to find success out ot the stretch."
An early runner in scoring position did nothing to faze Crouse, who got Hasuan Viera to line to center and never worked out of the stretch again. After working through the Emeralds lineup once, he said he favored his slider more heavily, especially early in the count. When he found his changeup working as a strikeout pitch, the 19-year-old knew he was in for a memorable night.
"I knew I was cruising along the whole way, but I kept telling myself to keep that laser focus, keep my head down and throw strikes," he said. "Honestly, the biggest thing Friday was not having any walks, which I hadn't done yet in a start this year."
Crouse picked up a pair of punchouts in the third, fifth and seventh, exiting after throwing 58 of 82 pitches for strikes. Cole Uvila gave up a run in the ninth, but Emmanuel Clase recorded the final two outs for his fourth save.
The Indians staked their starter to a quick lead as Julio Pablo Martinez led off the bottom of the first with a single, stole second and scored on a base hit by Diosbel Arias. Quiroz went 2-for-3 with an RBI single.
Gustavo Polanco accounted for the Emeralds' offense with a leadoff homer in the ninth.