By William Qualkinbush
Clemson’s opponents may cringe at Matthew Crownover’s self-critique of his freshman campaign.
As a dynamite member of the Clemson pitching staff who dominated much of his competition throughout the season as the Saturday starter, Crownover never felt like himself. He struggled to rebound from elbow surgery and could not throw the ball as hard as he would have liked.
“I wasn’t exactly 100 percent,” Crownover said. “Let’s put it that way.”
The low- to mid-80s fastball Crownover took the mound with for much of the 2013 season—the usual result of Tommy John surgery on pitchers—was complemented by some masterful offspeed stuff. The combination led to a team-best 2.19 earned run average and a 7-3 record in 14 starts over the course of the year.
Look at those statistics, then imagine a Matthew Crownover that has more to give on each and every pitch. The results could prove devastating for Clemson’s opposition this season.
Crownover feels better about his own prospects for obvious reasons. After shutting down his entire regimen for six weeks following last season, the lefthander regained some strength in his arm. From that point, he says, he began to get the kind of results he failed to see during games.
“Last year was a crap shoot,” Crownover said of his consistency. “You didn’t really know what was going to happen.”
Crownover spent a great deal of 2013 earning the respect of his teammates. He was presented with the Tiger Baseball Award following the conclusion of play, an honor bestowed upon the team’s best leader. For a freshman to earn it is high praise.
The Georgia native has taken the responsibility that comes with such an award and run with it. He is committed to preparing his body to throw longer and harder this season, knowing full well what might have been had he been in better physical shape a year ago.
“I kind of ran out of steam at the end of the year because of my arm,” Crownover said. “This year, I’ll have more of a set schedule hopefully, if I take care of what I need to get done in the preseason.”
Daniel Gossett sits entrenched as the Friday starter, so Crownover seems prepared to occupy the Saturday slot once again. He came into his own last season as the number two starter on the pitching staff, and on a team in which much of last season’s output returns, the Tigers seem comfortable with him taking the hill during the middle game of weekend series.
“He’s a good matchup coming after Goose,” Clemson assistant coach Bradley LeCroy said. “Goose is more of a hard thrower, hard breaking ball type of guy. Matthew runs it up there pretty good in velocity, but his best pitch is his changeup.”
Crownover snuck up on everyone—including Clemson fans—last season when he burst onto the scene. Concerns about handling pressure may be offset by the absence of physical limitations.
Even if he is the same pitcher that finished the 2013 campaign, Crownover may be a thorn in the side of opponents again this season. The possibilities seem serious enough that opposing coaches might not sleep very well knowing a 1-2 punch as good as the one Clemson possesses is right around the corner.