Don Cooper sits in the visitors' dugout at Rogers Centre, praises Chicago White Sox management for signing Jesse Crain last off-season and wonders how much better the relief pitcher's strong season could be.
The longtime pitching coach is still smarting over a scoring change by Major League Baseball following an April 29 game at Baltimore that resulted in four runs being charged to Crain, the Toronto-born right-hander, whose earned-run average climbed from 1.17 to 3.52.
There were two out in the seventh inning when Orioles outfielder Adam Jones hit a grounder to White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who bobbled the ball to load the bases and was charged with an error. Baltimore asked the league to review the call, and the error was changed to a hit.
"I don't know why [there was a scoring change]. I'd like to talk to someone because that was a ridiculous call," Cooper said during the White Sox's recent visit to Toronto. "He's got good numbers now [3.10 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 29 innings]. You take three or four runs away …"
It wasn't always this good for Crain, who began to turn around his game 13 months ago.
Sporting a 7.31 ERA on May 18, 2010, he whittled it down to 3.04 by season's end after allowing only eight earned runs over the final 45 of his 71 appearances, with four of those runs coming in the regular season finale versus the Blue Jays.
Crain's success coincided with a changed approach on the mound and the introduction of a new pitch.
Staying calm and not looking past the next pitch has done wonders for Crain, whose game face is evident during his bullpen warm-up.
"I don't try to be sharp in the bullpen. … I throw a lot quickly to try to get my arm loose, take a deep breath and just tell myself to focus on one pitch at a time," Crain said.
"If you start thinking about who's coming up next or 'I have to do this' or 'I have to do that,' you start letting the game get away from you and make bad pitches.
"I learned a lot last year. I'm able to slow the game down now, not trying to overthrow when I know I can throw a certain way and be able to throw strikes in key situations."
The addition of a fourth pitch, a split-finger change-up courtesy of Twins veteran pitcher Carl Pavano, has helped tremendously.
Unlike a slider and curveball, the pitch moves away from left-handed hitters, who have managed just three hits and a 0.86 ERA covering 11 innings against Crain.
So, why is it such an effective pitch versus lefties?
"Well, [the hitters] probably don't realize or know that I throw it," said Crain, who threw the change-up a little last season and more as spring training went along. "If you can throw a change-up it's one of the best pitches in the game. It just gives me an extra weapon. I use it against righties, too [who are hitting .206 against Crain].
"The grip is similar to a [split-finger fastball]. It's the only thing I've ever been able to throw that slows down. I haven't been able to throw a regular change-up because I can't get it to slow down. This one, for whatever reason, the way I throw it kind of flips and that's why I've kept throwing it."
Crain arrived in Toronto on May 25 and hadn't allowed a run in 11 previous appearances but has had a slow start to June, giving up runs in two of five outings through June 13, including two home runs, after allowing just one through the first two months of the season.
Still, he remains one of the main stabilizing forces in a White Sox bullpen that has seen Matt Thornton, Chris Sale and current closer Sergio Santos get a shot at the job.
Crain said he wouldn't complain if asked to close but he doesn't seem suited for the role. He blew 14 saves in 17 chances in seven seasons with Minnesota, while Santos has converted 12 of his first 14 but gave way to Crain for the save on June 11.
"I think he could close in some situations," said Cooper of Crain, "but he's made his mark in the American League being a good set-up guy.
"Jesse Crain has done a great job for us, a great acquisition. I love him. He's kind of old-school to me because he seems to be a low-maintenance guy. He comes to the park ready to compete every day.
"I liked what I saw from Crain in Minnesota but now that he's here and you see it on an everyday basis, it was a gain for us for sure [signing him]. We're glad we have him."