Matthew Crownover can throw a 'real fastball' again; and if his opening performance Saturday against Eastern Michigan is any indication, the Tigers' sophomore lefty is close to being back on top of his game.
Crownover, who at one stage in his high school career was considered a likely top 10 MLB draft pick, is now nearly two years removed from 'Tommy John surgery' on his left elbow.
As a freshman he pitched through what amounted to an extended rehab period, with his pitch count limited and his velocity diminished. He still had a 7-3 record, led the Tigers with a 2.19 ERA and earned Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America honors.
After throwing a career-high 102 pitches and striking out a collegiate-best nine batters Saturday in Clemson's 5-3 victory over Eastern Michigan, Crownover said at times he had to 'rein in' his fastball, which he threw consistently at 90-91 miles per hour.
"It was nice to have something on the fastball again," Crownover said. "Last year I didn't have anything on it, but now I have some horsepower back and I'm finding I need to rein it in a little. It's a good problem to have.
Crownover battles for win
"The ball's moving like crazy, and I need to get ahead more often early in the county. I felt like I was up around 90 today, and last year I was creeping along at 82 or 83. It's hard to get people out like that. It's good to be able to throw a fastball again."
Crownover said the high pitch-count during his five-inning stint on Saturday was a result of not always getting ahead in the count, and of giving up too many foul balls.
"I just battled all game and got people out," he said. "I gave up hits on two of the best pitches I threw. Sometimes I throw too many strikes. People know I'm going to be in the zone, and that comes back to haunt me sometimes."
Crownover describes himself as a continued work in progress.
"It's only Feb. 15, so with 15 or 16 more starts, I should be able to have three pitches that I can really go to at any point in the count," he said. "I feel stronger now than I ever have, but now I have to harness that and make sure I have my control. I've always been a control guy."