Hans Crouse will tell you – he be can be a little, well, quirky on the mound.
“I talk to myself out there quite a bit,” Crouse, 19, said on Thursday in the Avista Stadium dugout which will be his home away from home for the summer.
“I’ll do, like, a little Mark Fidrych manicure of the mound on my knees if I’m not happy with how the mound’s looking.”
For those unfamiliar, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was a talented but eccentric righty for the Detroit Tigers in the 1970s who would talk to the ball and get on his hands and knees to smooth out cleat marks on the pitching mound – during an at-bat.
“I’ve always been super-competitive,” Crouse said. “Maybe a little too overcompetitive at times. I’ve never really thought, though, that there is such a thing as overcompetitive.”
Crouse, named the Indians’ Opening Day starter, will use every tactic available to him to gain an advantage on a hitter.
“I’ll mix in some different deliveries on the mound and showcase something. I’ll do a little Johnny Cueto shimmy, then a quick pitch, a little over-the-head move too, along with my normal deliveries as well.”
Indians manager Kenny Holmberg doesn’t mind the theatrics as long as Crouse can remain focused on the task at hand.
“He might get a little ahead of himself with the crowd and the atmosphere, but as long as he keeps himself under control, and keep control of his breathing, and (catcher Isaias) Quiroz does a good job helping through the process the first couple of innings navigating through together, he’ll be fine,” the skipper said.
Quiroz wants Crouse to be himself on the bump as much as possible.
“I want every pitcher to be who they are on the mound,” Quiroz said. “I don’t want to take anything away from them. I want them to be them, because that’s what their true colors are. Hans Crouse is a very animated guy, and I love it because he’s a competitor.
“Sometimes when the game does get a little fast on him, I do have to calm him down just a little bit, but other than that I just let him ride. Just let him run.”
Crouse has more of a personality than some on the mound, but he has the stuff to back it up.
The Dana Point, California, native features a mid-90s fastball, an MLB-ready slider and a changeup that all agree is a work in progress.
“I think he has outstanding stuff,” Quiroz said. “I had a chance to catch him in extended (spring training). He has a live fastball. I know one thing we were working on in extended was his changeup, and it developed really well.”
Holmberg has a vivid description of who Crouse is a pitcher.
“He’s a predator,” Holmberg said. “He’s a hunter – he’s not going to get hunted. He’s going to go right after guys. He’s going to try to establish his fastball, command it.
“He showcases some nice secondary stuff. Hopefully, he can just get away with commanding the fastball the first times out.”
Crouse, the No. 66 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, was honored to get the call to start the first game of the season.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “It’s cool to see all the coaching staff here, especially my pitching coach Jono (Armold) has that confidence in me to go out there and get a good Opening Day start for the team and keep the momentum going for the series.”
Holmberg returns to the dugout as a field manager for the first time in three years after serving as the Texas Rangers minor league infield coordinator, but he has an appreciation for his predecessors.
“It’s really big shoes to fill here,” he said. “Tim (Hulett) did a tremendous job for the amount of time he spent here. Matt Hagen is a tremendous person, he did a good job here last year with the group. I look to do just as well as those guys did getting these guys in a position to play baseball and be good people moving on.”
But he explained that with all the pomp and circumstance of Opening Night, there’s still work to be done.
“There’s obvious excitement. But there’s a baseball game,” he said. “It’s an opening night. The atmosphere and the environment will provide a lot of stuff for us.”
Now that the preseason public relations duties are done, the new manager is ready for his players to get after it on the field.
“We’re excited,” he said. “Anticipation of Opening Day, Opening Night, especially in June. It’s always a longer wait than most folks have to do in April.
“We’re excited to go. We’ve got a good guy on the mound. Good stuff. Great personality. He’s ready to rock and roll, and so are we.”
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