The Royals are off to a great 3-1 start after stringing together back-to-back-to-back walk off wins after dropping the first game of their set to the Angels. Certainly that'll be the talk of most fans, Royals or otherwise. But to me the biggest point of emphasis to take away from the first Royals series of the year were the performances of Aaron Crow and Tim Collins.
Between the two, they combined for seven scoreless innings of relief in which they allowed just five hits, two walks while striking out eleven. While the rest of the AL Central's pitching pretty universally sucked, these two combined to post the most dominant performance of all (with apologies to the Indians Justin Masterson).
In my profile of Crow, I noted that he had a 92-94mph fastball with solid movement and a slider with good movement in the 85-86 range but the pitch was poorly commanded. Well, the fastball wasn't quite that hot, he was more 91-93 - but the slider was definitely 85-86 and he was getting great depth and commanding the pitch well.
While Crow has frequently struggled with his command out of the rotation, for at least these first few innings in the bullpen, he was lights out. He still showed the tendency to lose the zone every now and then, but he picked it up again quickly and attacked aggressively with his diving fastball before putting hitters away with his slider. The pitch ran away from righties and ducked under the bats of lefties with hard, late break.
The left handed Collins too looked great. In fact, this was actually my first time seeing him pitch, hence the lack of a prospect profile on him from earlier this year. He didn't disappoint. He's got some funk to his delivery with a big leg kick that leads to him bending backwards, and showing his number to the hitters. But he uncorks with a 91-92mph fastball. The pitch doesn't have great movement and at his height he struggles to get good plane, but the pitch is lively enough.
That sets up a nasty 81mph changeup with good hard sink that parachutes on hitters and induced a few really ugly swings. He compliments it all with a 73-75mph, 11/5 curveball. He doesn't spot the pitch brilliantly and left a few up, but it's got good depth and he's fearless with it, throwing it to lefties and righties alike. That fearlessness scares me a bit because I think righties will hit it well, but it's worked so far and should be a really solid offering vs lefties.
With three pitches that are all at least average or better (+FB/+CH) he's going to be very good, and the changeup should make him effective against lefties or righties. He also showed a great willingness to pitch backwards, starting hitters off with the changeup and curveball too. That should help keep guys from sitting on his fastball.
Watching him throw three dominant frames against the Angels, slicing through the heart of their order like a hot knife through warm butter was impressive. It was a gutty 41 pitch outing from a guy not used to throwing that long. While Matt Treanor is going to have the moment everyone remembers with his three run, game-winning bomb (good for him by the way) after redeeming himself for a base-loaded groundout in the bottom of the 9th that could've won it, if it weren't for Collins' effort, he'd have never had the chance.
The Royals bullpen was one of baseball's worst in 2010, but this pair of young hurlers gives the Royals a potentially lethal set of arms to pair with Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejada. Throw in Jeremy Jeffress and this could be a unit that isn't to be trifled with in 2011.
Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.