Michael Crotta is making the most of his chance at Syracuse

Michael Crotta, a sinkerballer who regularly throws in the mid-90s and has been one of Class AAA Syracuse’s most effective relievers, has his career back on track after thinking in February that it could have been finished.

(syracusechiefs.com)

(syracusechiefs.com)

In his past seven outings for the Nationals‘ top affiliate, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-hander hasn’t allowed a run over 7 1/3 innings while he has struck out five and walked none. Crotta, 28, made the majors in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he missed all of 2012 after elbow surgery (in which James Andrews inserted a four-inch screw), a staph infection and an emergency surgery related to the infection.

“It was a long, tough year for me,” Crotta said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I was a week away from trying to get a real job, but then I had some tryouts and I felt good. It was just nice to get some command back, and that gave me a lot of confidence.”

Crotta, who signed Feb. 13, chose Washington in part because he had worked with Syracuse Manager Tony Beasley in the Pirates organization. He also knew Nationals assistant general manager Bryan Minniti from their Pittsburgh days, where both were getting started in professional baseball.

In fact, Crotta said he joined Minniti and now-Pirates pitcher Jared Hughes at an event with Pittsburgh season ticket holders in spring training in 2007. The only problem: Those in attendance were expecting to meet with then-manager Jim Tracy and then-GM Dave Littlefield.

“They were not very happy to see us instead of the manager and the GM,” Crotta said. “You could see they were wondering who we were.”

Six years later, Crotta showed up in Viera, Fla., and Beasley already knew what the Nationals organization could be getting. Crotta was a solid starter for five minor league seasons and then reached the majors as a reliever. He had a 9.28 ERA in his 15 appearances with the Pirates, but he has a powerful sinker-slider combination and also throws a change-up.

“I knew who he was and what his capabilities were, and I knew he’s a quality guy,” Beasley said. “I was excited when I saw he was in our organization, but then I was more excited when I saw him in spring training.”

This season, Crotta is 4-6 with a 3.79 ERA with 18 walks and 31 strikeouts in 38 innings. He has two saves and has “been up to 97″ with his power sinker, according to farm director Doug Harris, who added that Crotta’s slider has been better lately.

Beasley also would like to see Crotta rely less on his fastball, saying, “We want to make sure his secondary pitches make that fastball even better. Hopefully, he’ll get another opportunity beyond here.”

As for the opportunity at hand, Crotta said one of the reasons he chose to sign with the Nationals was that they promised not to take it too easy on him.

“I feel like every organization has dealt with injuries at every position,” said Crotta, a 17th-round pick in 2006 out of Florida Atlantic. “But it was nice to hear they wouldn’t put kid gloves on me. They just want me to communicate with them, and so far it has worked out well.”

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