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Crawford shines on home turf

By Vickie Fulkerson

Publication: The Day

Published August 14. 2013 4:00AM
Tigers ace pitches in as A.L. wins New York-Penn League All-Star Game at Dodd Stadium 4-3

Norwich - As the first-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers this year, the 20th selection overall, Jonathon Crawford is naturally anxious to prove himself as a starting pitcher, especially since his teammates good-naturedly rib him about his reported $2 million-plus signing bonus.

"I block it out," Crawford said of any expectations that come from being a high pick. "There's guys in the clubhouse (jokingly) giving you crap about being the money baby. … This whole first year as a pro, you're just getting your feet wet and having a really good time with it."

Playing for the Connecticut Tigers in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League, however, it's been difficult for Crawford to prove too much.

The Tigers are protecting all of their first-year players who pitched collegiately in 2013. Crawford, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander out of Florida, has been limited to pitching three innings at a time, meaning his first professional victory will have to wait until next year.

Entering Tuesday night's New York-Penn League All-Star Game, won 4-3 by the American League with two runs in the bottom of the ninth, Crawford was 0-2 with a 1.89 earned run average in eight starts. His best appearance came on June 27 against Vermont when he went three innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits, striking out four.

The All-Star game, then, was one opportunity to shine.

One of three Tigers chosen to represent the American League, Crawford was the first of the hometown trio to enter the game being played before 4,774 fans at Dodd Stadium.

Crawford pitched the second inning, consistently hitting 92 mph on the radar gun, and didn't allow a hit, striking out the final two batters he faced to end a 1-2-3 inning.

Connecticut outfielder Ben Verlander and closer Zac Reininger, tied for the league lead in saves with seven, were the other members of the All-Star team. The American League, which got a home run from Most Valuable Player Ryan Huck of the Vermont Lake Monsters (Oakland Athletics) and a game-winning groundout from Oscar Hernandez of the Hudson Valley Renegades (Tampa Bay) in the bottom of the ninth, made a winner of Reininger, who pitched a scoreless top of the ninth.

The American League also featured the Connecticut Tigers coaching staff, including manager Andrew Graham.

The celebration was capped with a fireworks display.

Crawford was one of only two first-round draft picks in the game, joining New York Yankees first-round pick Eric Jagielo, who plays third base for Staten Island. Mike Yastrzemski (Aberdeen IronBirds, Orioles), grandson of Red Sox great and Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, started in right field for the American League. LJ Mazzilli (Brooklyn Cyclones, Mets), son of former Norwich Navigators manager and New York Mets favorite Lee Mazzilli, was a member of the National League roster.

It was announced that next year's game, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the league, will be played at MCU Park on Coney Island, Brooklyn, home of the Cyclones.

Crawford, from Okeechobee, Fla., was 6-2 with a 3.13 ERA with 73 strikeouts as a sophomore at Florida, pitching a no-hitter during the Gators' opener in the NCAA Gainesville Regional, just the seventh complete-game, no-hitter in postseason play and the first since 1991.

This season, he was 3-6 with a 3.84 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings on a younger Florida team without a lot of run support.

Crawford said "of course" he wished he could go deeper into games as a first-year pro.

"I know the Tigers have my best interest in mind," Crawford said. "(I'm working on) command, not walking guys. … I had a lot of teammates in summer ball telling me (pro ball) is laid back. 'You'll love it.' I couldn't be happier."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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