This season, the Twins hope to have their bullpen problems behind them, with a few players already stepping up in Spring Training.
Jesse Crain has impressed both the coaches from Team Canada and more importantly his own coaches with the Minnesota Twins. After striking out all four batters he faced in the World Baseball Classic, Crain has allowed just three hits and a run in 7.1 innings since his return to the Twins. At this point, he looks to be the most logical option to fill the setup-man duties. Yesterday, Kelly Thesier of MLB.com asked manager Ron Gardenhire who has impressed him this Spring (in regards to the setup-man job), Gardenhire responded saying that “Jesse Crain is throwing the living fire out of the ball.” Gardenhire also told Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that “Jesse’s probably the leading candidate” for the setup job.
That is something many Twins fans will be happy to hear considering Crain is only a little under two years-removed from rotator cuff/labrum surgery on his right shoulder. Considering his return from shoulder surgery, many were disappointed in Crain’s 2008 numbers. But the fact is that Crain’s ‘08 campaign was actually promising considering most pitchers never return to pre-labrum surgery form.
Crain appeared in 66 games last season and had a 3.59 ERA with a 1.37 WHIP in 62.2 innings pitched. The numbers were very similar to his 2006 stats when he had a 3.52 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP in 76.2 innings pitched. Perhaps the biggest worry with Crain in 2008 was due to his lack of control. In 162.2 innings in the Minor Leagues, Crain had a solid 3.9 K/BB ratio before reaching the Major Leagues. But since he’s been with the Twins, Crain has a 1.82 K/BB ratio in 262.1 big league innings. While Crain’s strikeout ratio has certainly decline, he has remained consistent in BB/9 from the minors to the majors. In the Minor Leagues, Crain gave up an average of 2.9 walks per 9 innings and in the Major Leagues has given up 3.0 walks per 9 innings.
A very bright spot for Crain was the fact that his 94.1 MPH fastball and 89.2 MPH slider averages both lead the team. Regardless of the type of shoulder surgery, having limited droppoff in velocity in your both your fastball and second best pitch is very encouraging. Another positive for Crain has been the addition of his new pitch the “slurve.” Despite already throwing both a slider and a curveball, Crain introduced his slurve to Italian hitters in the WBC and struck out all four batters he faced with a called third strike, and coincidental, all four pitches used to get the third strikes were slurves.
Crain has always had great potential as a Twins reliever. If the Twins bullpen hopes to rebound after a poor 2008 campaign, they’ll need someone to grab ahold of the 8th inning duties before Joe Nathan and Crain looks like he just could be that guy.
This post can also be seen at BaseballDigest.com.