The force was strong with this one.
On Star Wars Night at Avista Stadium on Friday, Hans Crouse lived up to the movie-star hype.
Crouse allowed one hit with no walks and struck out 11 over seven innings – needing just 82 pitches – and the Spokane Indians edged the Eugene Emeralds 2-1 in the third of a five-game Northwest League series.
Crouse even embraced the Star Wars theme, wearing different-colored spikes to signify the two sides of The Force and giving a thumbs up to the press box when introduced as Hans “Solo” Crouse.
Crouse, the Texas Rangers’ second-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, is the organization’s No. 4 prospect, according to MLB.com. He missed opening day with a cut on his finger and his last start was abbreviated to one inning against Vancouver on Monday by rain.
This was the Crouse everyone has been waiting to see.
Manager Kenny Holmberg offered an explanation of Crouse’s challenges this season.
“Cut his finger. Who wants to pitch in Tri-City? Me getting ejected. Rain delay,” Holmberg said.
“The uncontrollable things have challenged him. These are things he learns now.”
He brought 15 strikeouts over 13 1/3 innings into the game and provided his longest start of the season – nearly doubling his season strikeout total.
“I take more pride in not walking people (over the strikeouts),” Crouse said. “Especially how I walked a few in Tri-City my first outing.”
The tall, gangly right-hander had everything working – a fastball in the upper 90s, a wicked slider that fooled the home-plate umpire on occasion and a changeup that he offered a few times, just to make the hitters think about it.
Again, he showed off a collection of shimmies, shakes and wiggles as he overpowered and baffled Eugene (10-19) all night.
“I told my pitching coach Jono (Armold) that tonight was going to be the first night that I’m going to get to show these people what I can do for them,” Crouse said.
“I’m glad I delivered.”
“He wants to come out and set the tone,” Holmberg said. “He’s got some antics. They’re good. He’s got a style. It’s his.
“We’re not trying to show up the other team. He’s not disrespecting. He’s learning how to hone that skill and with his stuff he’s pretty special.”
Crouse’s catcher, Isaias Quiroz, agreed.
“He did a really good job maintaining his composure tonight and just competing,” Quiroz said.
Crouse came out pumping gas, featuring a steady diet of 96- and 97-mph fastballs in the first inning. He coaxed leadoff hitter Fernando Kelli to bounce out to second, then struck out Luis Diaz and Tyler Durna on straight heat.
J.P. Martinez led off the home half of the first with a line-drive single to right off Riley Thompson – the Chicago Cubs’ 11th-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft making his professional debut – and immediately stole second base.
Jax Biggers walked and Diosbel Arias lined one up the middle, allowing Martinez to cruise home from second for the first run of the game for the Indians (10-18).
Biggers moved up a base on a fly out, but a strikeout by Austin O’Banion and a busted double-steal attempt found Biggers out at home to end the early rally.
In the second, Crouse thought he had Christopher Morel rung up on a slider, and stared toward the plate in disbelief when it was called a ball.
He brought one high and tight on Morel to get him to back out of the box, then dropped another slider that Morel waved at for strike three.
“It would have been nice to get those sliders, but I wasn’t letting anything affect me tonight,” Crouse said.
In the fourth, Martinez ranged well into the right-center gap to make a spectacular diving catch of a liner by Diaz, with right-fielder Tanner Gardner leaping over Martinez at the last to avoid collision.
On the next pitch, Gardner cut in front of Martinez to make a backhanded grab off the bat of Durna. Crouse finished the inning using a shimmy delivery to strike out Nelson Velazquez swinging, his sixth of the game.
Crouse struck two more Emeralds in the fifth, both looking. In the sixth, he broke Gustavo Polanco’s bat on a grounder to second, struck out Luis Vazquez with 96 on the outside corner, and retired Kelli on a popout to first.
The seventh brought more of the same. Crouse struck out Diaz swinging with a fastball on the hands and got Durna looking at the slider before Velazquez flied out to short center to end the inning.
“(Crouse) has a tremendous slider,” Quiroz said. “To me, it’s in the variation of a breaking ball-slider. It’s got a lot of break.
“Same thing with his fastball. The fastball moves with a little sinker action and moves pretty late. That’s the best I’ve seen it in a while.”
With two down in the bottom of the seventh, Spokane’s Tyler Depreta-Johnson lashed a double to the left-field gap and came around to score on a single by Quiroz, although the catcher was thrown out on a wide turn at first.
Polanco hit a solo homer and Kelli drew a walk off Cole Uvila in the ninth to make for a few nervous moments.
Kelli gave his bat an exaggerated toss after ball four and Quiroz took exception. The two jawed for a moment before cooler heads prevailed.
Emmanuel Clase entered with one down and Quiroz threw out Kelli attempting to steal. Quiroz gave a little first pump after nabbing the NWL stolen-base leader.
“Just got the blood flowing and all the adrenaline was there,” Quiroz said. “I’m just glad I could help my team win right there.”
Clase then got Diaz swinging with a 99-mph fastball to close it out.
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