For any pitcher, a swollen elbow is a cause for concern. For former South Carolina baseball star Wil Crowe, it was downright frightening last month.
Crowe missed part of 2015 and all of 2016 while with the Gamecocks after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he had recovered and pitched his way to a second-round MLB draft selection by the Washington Nationals in 2017, and his 2018 season was off to a blazing start, with a 9-0 record and 2.44 ERA.
But after his June 13 start with Washington's High-A affiliate, the Potomac Nationals, Crowe got a scare.
"I threw a game, I actually had a really good outing (and) my elbow kind of swelled up," Crowe said. "I said, I think I tore some scar tissue and it maybe got in the wrong area."
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Given his injury history, Crowe made it clear to the organization — he wasn't taking any chances. He wanted an MRI to confirm there was nothing seriously wrong.
"They were like, we think you might be good, and I was like, I don’t want to risk it. I don’t want to push it back any extra time if I don’t have to," Crowe said. "Just getting the 'for sure' on it and we got the MRI back, and they were like, yeah, you got some scar tissue that was in there and floating around and it will flush out in a week."
The relief, Crowe said, was instantaneous. His return to the mound took a little bit longer.
"I was kinda freaking out a little bit. I was like, what’s going on? So that’s why we did the MRI. Because I wanted to be for sure. I never want to take a chance (with) my injury history," Crowe said. "I told them I wanted to get the MRI, and I wanted to get it all figured out before I started throwing again. And it came back positive, it came back good, so I was extremely happy about that, obviously. Now I’m just itching to get back out there."
On Sunday, Crowe made his first appearance since the injury scare, a rehab outing with the Nationals' Low-A team, the Auburn Doubledays. He threw three innings and 48 pitches, giving up two hits and two walks, but no runs. He said prior to that start that he hopes to return to Potomac and pitch again on normal rest.
It's no surprise Crowe is eager to return to the High-A club — he's been tearing through the minor leagues since his selection last season and is already considered one of the best prospects in the Nationals system.
The key, he said, has been to not become complacent or overly proud of his accomplishments.
"I think most of your time in pro ball is getting the routine and getting your system down. People say that, and I really don’t think people understand, pro ball, it’s up to you. Yeah, you got coaches and your strength guys and your trainers and you have all these guys that want to see you succeed, but it’s up to you," Crowe said.
"You gotta get in, get your work. If you’re content with being at A ball, you might be there forever. I think there’s a part of you that has to have that will or that drive to do the extra work or do the extra this or really hammer the routine out and figure out what it is that you want out of your routine. If I was content in A ball, I don’t know if I would be having as good of a year."
While wins and losses aren't always the perfect way to measure a pitcher's effectiveness, Crowe is the only starter in all of minor league baseball with nine or more wins and no losses. His 2.44 ERA and 1.25 WHIP are also above average marks that surpass what he accomplished as a senior in 2017.
Outside of his preparation, Crowe said the biggest change on the mound from college to the pros has been less about him and more about the hitters he's facing.
"Reading swings is a big thing. In pro ball — hitters will tell you a lot about what they’re doing based on their swing. They’re not free swinging, they’re trying to create a plan off of you or figure out how they can get to you, and some of the guys are still trying to figure out what they gotta do to hit effectively with a wood bat," Crowe said. "You learn that you can pitch different ways than you did in college with a wood bat. Really just learning different ways to get guys out throughout the game, not just, all right, I got to do this, this and this. No, this guy’s going to show me a weakness and I’m gonna go off that weakness, I can pitch off what he’s doing too, not just what my strengths are."