As I’ve often pointed out in this feature, the relievers who immediately back up the starters from the 5th or 6th inning on are also an important part of the staff. Oftentimes they are the starters in waiting and get their own rotation of sorts; one which may have a slightly shorter cycle than every fifth or sixth day.
So while he has made just one spot start this season (as part of an April doubleheader) Stefan Crichton has proved to be one of our most effective relievers. Until his last outing against Kannapolis Monday night, Stefan had driven his ERA below 2, and if there ever was a time for a letdown inning having an 11-2 lead might be that time. When it’s his turn Crichton generally keeps the Shorebirds in the game or holds the lead, as he has two multi-inning saves to his credit this season.
Stefan is one of those who is slowly rising through the system. While he went to a well-regarded program at Texas Christian, Crichton wasn’t selected by the Orioles until round 23 of the 2013 draft and began his career with a stint in the Gulf Coast League. Last year he remained in short-season ball with Aberdeen, so this year was Crichton’s first taste of spring baseball since college. It also lags him as a slightly older player than league average, although he’s only celebrated five actual birthdays (Stefan has the distinction of a February 29 birthday.)
For the season, Crichton’s record is only 1-2 with a 2.72 ERA. However, he has a very solid 1.13 WHIP and that’s mainly because he rarely walks a batter – just 7 this year in 39 2/3 innings and only 17 in 107 professional frames. Last year at Aberdeen he had a 40/7 K/BB ratio in 44 1/3 innings, so while the strikeouts are harder to come by at this level he’s also cut down on hits allowed from 56 last season to just 38 so far this go-round. Allowing less than one hit per inning is a good way to cut the WHIP and ERA, and he’s done both from his 2014 season with the IronBirds.
As we reach the halfway point of the season, I would expect Stefan to have a chance at promotion but could also see him leading what’s become a depleted staff due to a rash of injuries. While he has pitched as many as six innings in a game in his career, the Shorebirds don’t seem to be stretching him out to be a starter as he was in his professional debut season. Crichton seems to have found his niche and there’s not much reason to change him now.