A day before his first home start as a member of the Reading Fightin Phils, right-handed pitcher Hans Crouse shuffled into the batting cage for his next turn in a round of batting practice on Friday afternoon.
After stepping into the left-handed batter’s box, Crouse got ready to swing. As the pitch came in, he tipped his bat forward, kicked his leg and took a hack, connecting for a high fly ball.
His Fightins teammates who stood behind the cage anxiously awaited the baseball’s landing. Crouse had hit one to the warning track earlier, but this one didn’t disappoint. The ball sailed beyond the right-center-field wall at Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium.
Crouse gave a huge fist pump and ran toward his cheering teammates. He leapt in the air and side-bumped with another player in celebration. It may have just been a home run in BP, but Crouse was amped up.
“I just compete,” he told Phillies Nation earlier that afternoon. “And if people take that as being too over the top, then so be it.”
Crouse, of course, was referring to his demeanor as a pitcher at the time. His competitive nature bleeds into other matters such as batting practice, but it’s most notable when he takes the mound. The starter — acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies at the trade deadline along with major-league pitchers Ian Kennedy and Kyle Gibson in a deal that sent Spencer Howard and two minor-league pitchers to the Texas Rangers — brings intensity and attitude to his new organization along with him.
The right-hander has been known to stomp, yell and punch his fist into his glove on the field. If he’s not afraid to get too excited or emotional over a practice homer, then he’s certainly willing to do so when he’s facing an opposing lineup.
“I’m never going to change the way I compete on the mound and fire myself up out there,” Crouse said. “I do what works best for me and as long as I’m not hurting anyone in the process of doing that, then I’m going to continue to do what works best for me.”
Crouse tends to do what works best for him in just about every way — on and off the field.
The 22-year-old has his own sense of style. He currently sports bleach-blond hair, a dark mustache and 22 tattoos, including several on his neck. However, the look can change at any time.
“I love it,” he said with a smile. “I love having a different look all the time. I’ll probably have 10 other different looks throughout my pro career.”
Crouse drew the designs for two of his favorite tattoos himself. His first tattoo — a masked woman on his left shoulder — he designed and had done in high school. He also drew the design for the Marilyn Monroe tattoo on his left forearm.
“I just think it’s fun, and this game is meant to have fun,” he said of his appearance. “At the end of the day, it is our job, but we get to play a game for a living, so might as well make the most of our opportunities with it and have the most fun possible doing it.”
That outlook has endeared Crouse to many throughout his career.
“He’s a real genuine, good guy,” Fightins manager Shawn Williams said of his pitcher. “He’s been outstanding.”
The acceptance from Williams, along with the rest of the staff and players in Reading, has been crucial for Crouse, who was “a little shocked” when he was traded on July 30.
“When people have always told me life comes at you fast, I’ve never really believed it,” Crouse said. “But I’m definitely starting to believe it now.”
The Rangers organization was all he had known since being selected by the team out of high school in the second round of the 2017 draft. At home in California, he has a fiancee and a three-month-old son, Memphis. Joining the Phillies’ Double-A affiliate was much farther away from them and entirely new to Crouse, but the teams’ openness helped him adjust.
“They’ve welcomed me with open arms,” he said. “Haven’t changed a thing about the way I go about my business or personality, and all the guys have been great so far.”
“He’s really fit in well,” Williams said. “I know he loves it here. He’s an outstanding kid and, like I said, extremely genuine. I know all his teammates, they love him. He’s fit in very well.”
While Crouse has jelled with his new team by being the same person he’s always been, he’s been a standout on the field by changing himself as a pitcher.
“I’m not a thrower anymore,” the fourth-year minor leaguer said.
Crouse came out of high school as a two-pitch pitcher with a power fastball and slider combination. He relied on blowing his stuff past hitters in his first two seasons in professional baseball. Then his 2019 season threw a wrench into his arsenal.
He threw that entire year for the Single-A Hickory Crawdads with five bone chips in the back of his right elbow before undergoing surgery at the end of the season. The injury prevented him from throwing his slider during the season, so he pivoted to pairing the fastball with a changeup.
Entering 2021 after the canceled 2020 minor-league season, Crouse was healthy again and able to return to using his slider. He had developed much better feel for the changeup in 2019, which added a second offspeed pitch to his repertoire. His four-seam fastball velocity may have dipped slightly, sitting in the mid-90s mph instead of approaching triple digits, but he complemented the pitch by starting to mix in a few two-seamers and cutters.
Crouse has utilized that mix successfully all season. He had a 3.35 ERA in 13 starts for the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders while striking out 9.5 batters per nine innings.
In his first start for Reading on Aug. 6, he threw five shutout innings, striking out five and giving up just two hits and three walks, in a 3-2 win over the Richmond Flying Squirrels at The Diamond. On Saturday, he allowed one run over 4 1/3 innings in a 1-0 loss to the Akron RubberDucks in his home debut. He surrendered only three hits — one being a solo home run — and two walks, while striking out six.
“I’d just say I’m way more of a complete pitcher now,” Crouse said. “I still have my good fastball and good slider when I need it, but I’m pitching to guys a lot more this year and not just saying, ‘Here it is. Hit it.’
“I’m still challenging guys, but I’m working smarter and more efficiently for sure this year.”
Crouse hopes his newfound completeness can give him a shot at a promotion. Perhaps a big-league call-up this season is a bit of a long shot, but the Phillies could need arms as they push toward a postseason spot down the stretch.
“I’d love to be a part of the mix in September with the Phillies if they need some help,” he said. “That’s definitely a goal of mine.
“If not, I would love to be up there some time next year with them — bullpen, starting, I don’t care. I just want to help the team win.”
As for other goals, Crouse balances staying grounded with shooting for the stars. Off the field, he strives to be a great friend, father and eventual husband. Off it, he aims to win a World Series championship — “hopefully in Philly” — and, some day, win a Cy Young Award.
The baseball dreams are lofty, but Crouse isn’t exactly worried about those right now. He’s more focused on taking care of business in Double-A, “trying to take it one day at a time, one start at a time.”
It’s not yet clear what heights Crouse will reach in his playing career, and it likely won’t be for years to come. One thing will be certain, though, wherever they might be: He’ll get there doing things his own way.
“I’m a little different than most,” Crouse said. “I don’t know. I just feel like life can get so boring at times. Why not mix it up?”
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