Updated: July 18th, 2010 11:29am
Notebook: After rough start, everything clicking for reliever Jesse Crain

Notebook: After rough start, everything clicking for reliever Jesse Crain

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- If Jesse Crain wasn't on the verge of getting released in mid-May, he was awfully close.

A string of bad outings, capped when Crain allowed two earned runs in a third of an inning May 18 at Toronto, had his earned-run average at 7.31. He was a shadow of the reliever who was so good down the stretch in 2009.

Even Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire admits he wasn't sure Crain, who turned 28 this month, would recover to pitch as he has since that early-season slump.

"Well, you never know," Gardenhire said this weekend. "It gets to the point (when) he's got to figure it out that you have to be a pitcher and not a thrower."

That's what Crain had been doing for too long -- throwing, trying to overpower everyone, rather than trusting his stuff to get the outs when he needed them.

"I've always kind of thrown hard my whole life," Crain said, "and sometimes, you get caught up in just trying to rush the ball there, rush the ball there. Even if you add another mile an hour on the pitch, it's flat and they hit it, and that hurt me a little bit at the beginning of the season. I had a few outings where I was one pitch away and I'd rush and then they'd hit a home run, and there goes three runs."

Then, something clicked.

Crain credits Twins closer Jon Rauch with pointing out the problem one day in the bullpen. Gardenhire chuckles at that notion -- "as long as he gets 'em out, I don't really give a flying flip" -- and says pitching coach Rick Anderson has been talking himself blue in the face about Crain rushing his delivery.

Whatever it was, Crain has been lights-out of late. Since that outing in Toronto, he's appeared in 22 games and allowed no earned runs in 21 of them, compiling a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings.

And arguably the highlight of that run came on Friday night against the Chicago White Sox, who scored two runs off Rauch in the ninth inning before Crain shut the door. Alex Rios flew out to center field and then slugger Paul Konerko struck out swinging on three pitches -- a fastball, then consecutive changeups.

"He's walked up and thrown three breaking balls in a row to hitters," Gardenhire said, "and before, you were going to get a fastball. You were going to get one. He was going to let it fly, and I think he's just staying within himself and being a pitcher.

"You ask (catcher) Joe Mauer, and Mauer catches him more than anybody -- he's got as good of stuff as anybody out there, if not better."

When Crain starts rushing, he says, he can feel it and make the adjustment. And with Matt Guerrier and Brian Duensing handling most of the set-up duties, it doesn't hurt that Crain has found a way to redirect the anxiety he used to feel about when he'd get into the game.

"It's come to the point where I don't even think about that anymore," Crain said. "I can't think about it. If I do that, I'm going to drive myself nuts. If I'm going to think I'm going in the second inning, I'm going to be worried the whole game. ... I worry about what I can control and how I control it, what I can do when I go out there on the mound."

QUICK HITS
• Mauer got the start behind the plate on Sunday after serving as the designated hitter on Saturday night. "I always go by him and try to get him his days after a night game off and all that," Gardenhire said earlier in the series, "and we'll probably do that more the second half than we did the first half."

Danny Valencia got a second consecutive start at third base, moving Nick Punto to the bench.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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