There was a twist for the Phillies’ final regular-season home game on Sunday: Hans Crouse made his major-league debut.
Crouse, a pitching prospect acquired July 30 in a deadline trade with the Texas Rangers, was selected to the roster Sunday to start against the Pittsburgh Pirates in lieu of what was expected to be a bullpen game for the Phillies, who are trying to chase down the Atlanta Braves for the National League East crown.
How’s that for drama?
Crouse gave up a home run on the first pitch of his career, as Pirates leadoff man Cole Tucker hit a sinker off the right-field foul pole. But the 23-year-old right-hander kept the margin at 1-0 despite allowing four walks in three innings of the Phillies’ eventual 6-0 loss.
“To be honest with you, I was just trying to throw a strike,” Crouse said of the first-pitch homer. “That’s all that was going through my mind was strike one. Throw a strike. Once I saw it go off the pole I just said to myself, ‘Well, that’s one way to start a career.’”
Although Crouse joined the Phillies this weekend, he was neither activated nor informed that he would be starting until Saturday night when he received a phone call from pitching coach Caleb Cotham. Crouse said his fiancée, son, and grandparents were able to make it to the game.
Crouse had made only one start above the double-A level, but the Phillies’ pitching depth is perilously thin. Manager Joe Girardi preferred Crouse to right-hander Adonis Medina or lefty Cristopher Sanchez, both of whom pitched later in the game.
“We thought we’d see if we could get him through a few innings and go from there,” Girardi said. “[The Pirates] put a lot of lefties in there and his splits were good against lefties.”
Crouse posted a 3.28 ERA in 20 minor-league starts this season, including a 2.73 mark in six starts for double-A Reading after the trade.
The Phillies insisted on getting Crouse back in the deal that sent Spencer Howard and two other minor-league pitchers to Texas for veteran starter Kyle Gibson and closer Ian Kennedy. The Rangers agreed, if only because there’s some question about whether Crouse will remain a starter in the majors. He throws primarily a sinker, cutter, and changeup.
Crouse leaned heavily on the sinker and cutter against the Pirates, mixing in more changeups the second time through the order.
“I‘m happy with how I composed myself and how I got two quick outs after that [homer] and got into a rhythm in a game,” Crouse said.
The Phillies will need a starter for the second-to-last game of the season Saturday in Miami. It’s not clear if they will turn to Crouse again. They promoted him to triple-A Lehigh Valley for the final two weeks of the season, but he didn’t pitch before being called up Sunday.
“It’s exciting,” Crouse said. “It’s everything that I wanted for this year. It was one of my goals, whether I was still with Texas or with Philadelphia now, to be in the mix of September and give myself the best chance possible to be pitching in September.
“The biggest thing I told myself before I went out there, being a young guy here and throwing my first start, was just give the team a chance. That’s all I told myself. Once I come out of the game, if the team still has a chance to win, then I did my job.”
Crouse has a distinctive look that goes beyond his tattoos. He has been known to improvise on the mound, altering his delivery to throw off the hitter. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski described him in July as “a Mark Fidrych-type,” referring to the Detroit Tigers’ eccentric All-Star phenom in the mid-1970s.
“He talks to the ball at times and does some things,” Dombrowski said after the trade. “He is an unusual character, but he’s a good pitcher. He’s got good stuff.”
Crouse went to Dana Hills High School in California, where he was a teammate of Phillies utilityman Luke Williams for one season.
“‘Interesting’ is probably a pretty good word to describe him,” Williams said last month. “He definitely likes to show his emotions and expressions, but he’s a great dude.”
The Phillies finished 47-34 at home, their fourth consecutive season with a winning record at Citizens Bank Park. ... The Phillies presented director of publications Christine Negley with the Richie Ashburn & David Montgomery Special Achievement Award, the highest annual honor for a club employee in the front office. ... With an announced crowd of 29,336, the Phillies finished with a season attendance of 1,515,888. Full capacity wasn’t restored until the 26th home game. ... Zack Wheeler (14-9, 2.79 ERA) will face right-hander Charlie Morton (13-6, 3.53) on Tuesday night in Atlanta followed by Aaron Nola (9-8, 4.64) against lefty Max Fried (13-7, 3.12) on Wednesday night. Kyle Gibson (4-5, 4.87) is scheduled to start the series finale against Braves righty Ian Anderson (8-5, 3.60).