Q&A with Twins Reliever Jesse Crain

The past two seasons have been a test for Jesse Crain. With his ERA at an astronomical 8.15 last June, the Twins reliever was sent to Triple A Rochester to either “work it out” or disappear forever. Luckily for him, Crain did the former, was recalled a month later and pitched well down the stretch, finishing 2009 with an almost respectable 4.70 mark.

After a slow start to this season, Crain has again hit his stride and become one of the team’s most reliable relievers, posting a 3.16 ERA and .224 batting average against with 37 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. With his mid 90s fastball and closing pedigree, Crain may get a shot as the team’s top relief man if Jon Rauch’s struggles continue (but with the addition of Matt Capps, that isn’t going to happen).

The down-to-earth Crain sat down with me during the last homestand:

DZ: There’s a little over half of the season in the books now, on a personal level how would you assess how it’s went?

CRAIN: Good. It’s a long season. The first month and a half or so I just wasn’t being consistent. I’d go out there and have a couple of good outings and then have a bad outing – a couple of outings where I gave up three runs. That just kind of kills things. About the middle, end part of May I started putting more consistent outings out there. I am just trying to carry that on throughout the rest of the season.

DZ: Is there anything in specific that really clicked for you?

CRAIN: One thing – I guess two things – one mechanically. (Jon) Rauch mentioned to me one day in the bullpen just to stay back – I was rushing towards home plate. So I just made sure I stayed back and stayed over the rubber before I went home. I just started mixing up my pitches a lot. I’ve been able to throw all of my pitches for strikes in any count; I think that’s helped a lot too.

DZ: Going back to last year, you kind of got off to a rough start and then went back down to the minors for a little bit. When you came back it seemed like you improved a lot, things started clicking again. What was that whole experience like?

CRAIN: It’s nothing you want to have to go through. I think at the time it was good for me. I lost a lot of confidence, I wasn’t getting in games – I just needed to pitch – you need to get out there. It’s hard in the bullpen when you don’t throw for awhile, you kind of lose confidence. I was able to go down there and work with Triple A pitching coach Bobby Cuellar and pitch a lot. I was able to turn things around. I came into last year a little differently. I came in with some different mechanics and it just didn’t end up well. I had a good spring training, but after that things didn’t work out as well with those mechanics so I had to get back to my old mechanics and I was able to find those.

As far as starting off, it’s kind of been a trend a little bit in my career. I’ve had a rough – for whatever reason – the beginning of the season has been a little rough. Not even rough, just maybe a little more inconsistent. I go out there and have some good outings and some bad outings. I just wasn’t able to put back-to-back-to-back quality outings (together). In ’06 I started off bad, ’08 was OK – I was coming off surgery, ’09 obviously wasn’t that great and this year I wasn’t real consistent so it’s one of those things where it’s a long season and you just gotta look at it that way and know that you are going to be out there a lot and if you’re unlucky in the beginning things will turn around.

DZ: You picked up a save on (July 16) – your first one in about 4 years – that had to be a pretty good feeling.

CRAIN: Yeah, the funny thing is though if you come in and do it in the 6th inning it’s not that big of deal. You come in the 9th and everybody talks about it. The way I look at it is that I play it like it’s another outing. Obviously, it’s great to get a save.

DZ: You seemed pretty excited after the last out.

CRAIN: Well, (Jim) Thome ran out there and was the first one out there and he gave me “five” so it’s pretty cool to see a guy like that come out there and show his support – how happy he was. That is what was fun about it. It’s fun to do it in front of this crowd as well, they get up, they get excited, so that was pretty fun. Like I said, if I do it in the 6th inning, it’s not as big of a deal as when I do it in the 9th inning. I don’t want to make it bigger than it is, I want to keep everything even keel.

DZ: You did some closing in early in your pro career in the minors…for any bullpen guy their ultimate dream or goal is to be a closer.

CRAIN: That’s what I’ve done my whole life really. I always played shortstop all the way through college and then I would always come in and close games. I was always an end of the game relief pitcher. That’s what I did coming up through the minor leagues. I haven’t done it much here – I’ve thrown in the 7th and 8th innings, but in the 9th we’ve had one of the best closers in the game on this team in Joe Nathan, so if I get put in that in situation, I will go out and do it. That’s my goal one day.

DZ: Everybody is talking about the new stadium, how is it in the bullpen – is it nice having an actual work space?

CRAIN: Oh yeah, it’s a lot better to have an actual bullpen where we are off the field of play, not just on the side and our necks aren’t getting kinked or anything. The one thing I don’t like about it as that we can’t see the nice scoreboard, we are right under it so we can’t see anything that is going on. It’s great just to be out there, we have some fans yelling at us from up top. It’s kind of cool being next to the other team too. You can see those guys warm up. You can talk to some guys if you know them, watch Hall of Famers like (Mariano) Rivera warm up. Pretty cool.

DZ: Do they have any TV screens out there?

CRAIN: Nothing, we went to Citi Field in New York and they had a place to sit outside and a place to sit inside that was air conditioned. They had a TV with the live game feed on, it had a 10 second delay, but it was nice because you can see where pitches were being thrown, pitches were being hit. Stuff like that. Maybe that’s something they could bring in in the future – a TV that we could check out once and awhile.

DZ: You’ve been on the team going back to ’04, have you ever been driving into the stadium and accidentally started heading to the Metodome?

CRAIN: Actually no, that’s one thing I haven’t done is tried to turn right instead of left. It’s been great, I don’t think anyone really misses that place. We had some great memories there, but to be able to have a place like this and play baseball outside the way it’s supposed to be played.

DZ: One last thing, what did you do during the All Star break?

CRAIN: During the All Star break I like to go home to our house in Texas…It’s nice to go back to your actual house. It’s kind of weird, you never get to spend time there in the summer time, and having three nights where you can hang out at the pool and relax like a normal summer is pretty special, so I like to get home and see my friends and family that are there.

DZ: Did you watch the game at all?

CRAIN: Actually I didn’t. I caught a couple of homeruns in the Homerun Derby, but I didn’t see the game at all. I had other stuff going on – I was out at the pool, had the kids with me, had family over, I had a little barbeque that night, so I wasn’t paying too much attention to it.

DZ: One night without any baseball, huh?

CRAIN: Exactly.

See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Twins players:

July 23: Ron Mahay
July 21: Danny Valencia
July 11: Michael Cuddyer
July 8: Jason Repko
July 5: Nick Punto
June 12: Jason Kubel
June 9: Drew Butera
May 11: Denard Span
April 25: Justin Morneau
April 22: Alex Burnett
April 21: Mike Redmond
April 16: J.J. Hardy

One Response to “Q&A with Twins Reliever Jesse Crain”

  1. Q&A with Twins Starter Brian Duensing » MinnesotaSCORE Says:

    […] 29: Jesse Crain July 23: Ron Mahay July 21: Danny Valencia July 11: Michael Cuddyer July 8: Jason Repko July 5: […]

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