On a Monday afternoon in Bradenton, Fla., Kyle Crick came out of the bullpen for the start of the seventh inning in his third outing of Spring Training.
Two-and-a-half weeks before Opening Day, the match-up between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Toronto Blue Jays at LECOM Park was another date to cross off his list in preparation for the 2020 season after rehabbing from finger surgery on his pitching hand.
Crick struck out both Caleb Joseph and Chavez Young looking before getting Otto Lopez to fly out to center field. It was an efficient outing — seven pitches, all strikes — but unfortunately for the Sherman native it turned out to be his last appearance for awhile.
Four days later, on March 13, the entire sports world was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Pirates were scheduled to start the season at Tampa Bay on March 26 and now Crick and his teammates have no idea when, or if, the season will begin.
“I didn't think it'd be on a scale to shut down all sports,” said Crick, who is staying with and working out alongside former Pirates teammate and current Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow. “We try to keep it as close to the same schedule as possible. My flow is just staying ready. I want to be in better shape than when Spring Training ended.”
Now an established major leaguer, Crick is about to begin his fourth season in the bigs and third with Pittsburgh. There is a silver lining to the delay because of the surgery but his competitive juices are flowing.
“My arm felt great. The extra time has been beneficial to the healing process,” Crick said. “But all of us are kinda itching to play.”
The right-hander who touches high 90s with a fastball and spins a wipeout slider is slated to be one of the late-inning options for the Pirates — although with a new manager, Derek Shelton, taking over it remains to be seen where Crick might eventually slot in the bullpen's pecking order behind anointed closer Keone Kela.
“These guys are next level. This is a whole different look at the game,” Crick said. “From the looks of it, it would be 7-to-9th (innings), high leverage situations. I'm competing for the closer role. That's my goal.”
The 2019 season is one that Crick, 27, would like to forget and he was ready to put behind him as this year was about to get underway. On the mound he was 3-7 with 13 holds and a 4.96 ERA in 49 innings with 61 strikeouts and 35 walks.
Two of those innings came near his hometown as he pitched a pair of scoreless innings in a three-game series against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park. He earned the win in the first appearance and did it in front of about 150 family and friends.
But in his last 21 appearances, he had an 8.53 ERA, allowing 18 earned runs in 19 innings.
He found that over those final couple of months he was tipping his pitches — team video coordinator Kevin Roach helped determined the tells — and has worked to avoid that from happening again.
“I had a very good first half. The next couple months got out of control. We figured it out in early September. If you're doing something like that, people in the big leagues will expose it quickly. It's weird when you're watching yourself and looking for tics and things you do that might give it away.”
Then there were three incidents that put his name in headlines for the wrong reasons. At the end of July, he was part of a brawl against the Cincinnati Reds for which he was suspended three games.
Earlier that month Crick got into an altercation with bullpen coach Euclides Rojas after an argument about preferential treatment for All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez compared to the other Pirates relievers, according to The Athletic.
Then in early September, he and Vazquez got into a clubhouse altercation — which Vazquez initiated — over music. As a result of the scuffle, Crick had to have surgery to repair the extensor tendon on his right index finger and he missed the rest of the season.
“It was one of those clubhouse altercations. A lot of bickering back and forth,” Crick told reporters after the incident. “Punches were thrown, and at some point you stand up for yourself and start throwing them back. It's one of those deals where it's unfortunate. There are two losers in this deal. Nobody can win a fight with a teammate.”
In his first season with the Pirates — 2018 — Crick was 3-2 with a pair of saves, 16 holds and a 2.39 ERA in 60.1 innings in 64 games with 65 strikeouts and 23 walks. He held right-handed hitters to a .154 batting average.
It took Crick six years to get the call — spending three straight years in Double-A — before eventually making his debut with the San Francisco Giants in a game against the Braves in Atlanta on June 22, 2017.
He allowed just one hit in 2.1 scoreless innings (26 of his 33 pitches were strikes) and stayed with the Giants for the rest of the season, finishing 0-0 with a 3.06 ERA in 41 innings across 30 appearances. He allowed 36 hits and 17 walks while striking out 39. He had a 2.76 ERA in 24 games with Triple-A Sacramento before his promotion.
“When I got on the mound, I hadn't thrown that many pitches before. I think maybe once in the minors I went more than one inning, so I wasn't expecting that,” Crick said. “I gave up a hit on an 0-2 pitch to the first guy and then retired the rest in a row. I had some success. That's when I realized I could do this.”
Then in January of 2018 he was traded, along with minor league outfielder Bryan Reynolds, to the Pirates for outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
The Giants gave him a chance to start before he became a full-time reliever entering that 2017 season and the move to the bullpen paid off when he opened the year in Triple-A. At one point he was San Francisco's top-ranked prospect in 2012 and 2013, when he pitched in the Futures Game as part of that year's All-Star Festivities.
“I saw the writing on the wall. In my eyes at 22, 23 years old they have a bunch of starters making $20 million. They didn't have room for a sixth starter,” Crick said. “I wasn't going to make the big leagues as a starter. By the time I got to Triple-A, that was my ticket. That's when I realized how close I was.
“I've got a program that works for me to get my body ready and my mind ready. That's the biggest difference — going from every fifth day to every day.”
He was selected by the Giants with the 49th pick in the 2011 Draft after his standout career as a Bearcat with a senior season that saw him win district Pitcher of the Year honors as he went 7-2 with a 1.11 ERA and 95 strikeouts when he became a pitcher full time after previously starting as an infielder. Crick turned down a chance to play at TCU by deciding to turn pro and accept a signing bonus of $900,000.