Sherman’s Kyle Crick recorded six saves for Triple-A Sacramento this season as an occasional closer, and his eyes light up when he talks about the experience.
“I liked hearing the fans on the last couple strikes,” Crick said. “It was cool because it was all so different. I’ve never been in the ninth inning as a starter.”
Crick usually didn’t see the eighth inning as a starter. Or the seventh or the sixth. Often not even the fifth. The Giants spent five-plus seasons trying to develop Crick into a dominant rotation piece, but he didn’t throw enough strikes and couldn’t figure out a way to record efficient outs.
But after three seasons at Double-A Richmond, Crick wedged his wheels out of the sand. A good spring earned him a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento, and he posted a 2.76 ERA in 24 relief appearances while striking out 39 in 29 1/3 innings.
The former 2011 supplemental first-round selection still has electric stuff, and now he’s cracked through to the big leagues. Crick, 24, caught a 6 a.m. flight to Atlanta on June 21, replacing struggling right-hander Derek Law on the roster.
“His improvement has been as dramatic as any of our minor leaguers,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Crick. “It showed in major league camp. You know, the arm, it plays once you can get it under control. He’s throwing strikes with his slider and changeup. He’s matured not only as a pitcher but as a person, I think.”
Through the All-Star break which ended with Friday night’s games, Crick is 0-0 with a respectable 3.52 earned-run average, having allowed three earned runs in 7 2/3 total innings. He has struck out five and walked one — walks were his biggest hindrance in his advancement through the minor leagues — but has also thrown three wild pitches since his call-up, including two in his most recent appearance before the break.
In six appearances, he’s been the pitcher to finish the game five times — all in mopping up losses. But the groundwork is clearly being laid to use him in a higher-leverage relief situation in the future, either as a closer or a set-up man.
They say the Double-A turn is the toughest for players. Crick made it, but only after taking the scenic route. Asked what it was like to repeat the Eastern League twice, he gave a candid answer.
“Oh, it was brutal,” Crick said. “The change of scenery definitely helped. Not going back for a fourth time was the biggest thing. It’s like, ‘I’m getting the opportunity to get out of Richmond, and now I’ve got to run with it.’ It was, ‘OK, this is my shot.’
“That put it into perspective for me. It made me realize all I had to do was bear down.”
Crick got the news after the River Cats lost 11-6 to Albuquerque on June 20. How did it go?
“Well, we just got crushed…” said Crick, joking that he had a hunch manager Dave Brundage was about to drop some news. “I could tell something was up when he was pacing around, doing his Brundy thing.”
Crick’s parents traveled from Texas to Atlanta and were in the stands. The trip was too tough for his fraternal twin, Kevin, though. He’s in the middle of a two-week vacation in Southeast Asia.
“He might be in Vietnam today,” Crick said.
Matt Cain was among the players most excited to see Crick enter the clubhouse. Crick was compared to Cain ever since the Giants drafted him out of high school in Sherman. Cain was in the big leagues before his 20th birthday. So many people expected that Crick would be, too.
“The way things are, and we’re as guilty of it as the media or whoever else, we think they should go through the system faster,” Cain said. “That’s our problem. It’s not theirs. Their schedule could just be different. People go through experiences at different rates. Some guys need to figure out things on their own or maybe it takes longer.
“It’s been a tough road for him at times, but he’s got all the talent for sure, and we’re excited to see it. We all saw he did a tremendous job in spring training. You could see him trusting and believing in his stuff.”
Crick made his major league debut the next day, June 22. He entered with the Giants trailing by six runs in the fifth inning of a 12-11 loss to the Braves at rain-soaked SunTrust Park.
It was an inning that Cain began with a lead but could not finish. The Braves sent 13 batters to the plate while scoring eight runs in the fifth inning.
Cain and Crick saw their careers pass like ships in the steamy night.
Cain could not hold a 6-4 lead as Brandon Phillips placed a looping curveball into the second deck to start an inning. He gave up two more singles and yielded to Bryan Morris, who retired only two of the eight batters he faced.
At least Crick provided a nice moment for himself and his parents in the stands. He pumped a 96 mph fastball for a first-pitch strike, and although the Braves’ Danny Santana hit an RBI single, Crick got Matt Adams to fly out to end the inning.
Then Crick, who endured so many control issues while three-peating at Double-A, retired the next six batters in order. Impressively, he threw 26 of 33 pitches for strikes.
Crick said he wouldn’t close the door to becoming a starter again, but he cannot take issue with the decision to move to relief. It’s what got him to the big leagues, isn’t it?
“But it’s good to keep all doors open, because if something is asked of me, I don’t want there to be any idea that I can’t do it,” Crick said. “I just want to roll with whatever they ask of me.”
(Note: Herald Democrat sports editor Bill Spinks contributed to this article.)