Reliever Crain 'ecstatic' to join White Sox

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Reliever Crain 'ecstatic' to join White Sox

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010
3:37 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO Last year, J.J. Putz cherry-picked enough easy wins to be considered the Chicago White Sox vulture, swooping down for surprisingly easy kills. But with Putz having departed for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the role is now open.

Early nominee for 2011 White Sox vulture? General Manager Ken Williams.

It happened very quickly, Jesse Crain recounted on Monday afternoon. We were negotiating with the Colorado Rockies and Boston Red Sox, they were offering a vesting third year, the White Sox called on Tuesday and we agreed on Wednesday Dec. 15.

It took 24 hours to get a deal done. I thought, These guys are serious.

Crain had his second-best professional season in 2010, going 1-1 with a 3.04 ERA and 2.3 KBB. His 3.45 Fielder Independent Pitching was equivalent to that of White Sox starter Gavin Floyd, and like Floyd he was lights-out at midseason, stitching together 21 straight scoreless appearances from June 12 to Aug. 4 and compiling a 0.28 ERA over 35 games between June and August. Crain tied for eighth in the American League with a career-best 21 holds, limiting hitters to a .215 average and stranding .769 of inherited runners. In his career vs. the AL Central, Crain is 20-7 with a 2.82 ERA.

His team-first makeup and his ascendant numbers pushed Williams to secure Crain for the next three seasons, paying him 13 million (4 million in 2011 and 4.5 million each in 2012 and 2013) in a contract made official on Monday.

Better yet, Crain feels hes only getting better.

I was sort of surprised to see just a few days ago on a Web site that my velocity has gone up over the last few years, he said. Im developing a new split-finger fastball to compliment his fastball, slider, curve and seldom-thrown changeup and Im really looking forward to working with Pale Hose pitching coach Don Cooper.

Crains correct, in that speed tracking finds that over seven professional seasons the righthanders fastball has increased in average velocity from 92.9 mph in 2004 to 94.8 mph in 2010.

Those numbers point toward Crain just reaching his professional peak. Yet hes chosen to ditch the deep gaps of Target Field for the summer bandbox that is U.S. Cellular Field. While there is some concern that Crains flirtation with being a fly ball reliever may make for a bad fit at his new ballpark (0.89 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio in 2010 but 1.23 in his career), the 29-year-old is unruffled.

Ive pitched in Chicago a bunch of times, Crain said. Yeah, the ball flies a little more, and some deep flies are going to turn into home runs, but you just cant let it affect you. You cant think too much.

The fireballer admitted to some surprise over Minnys reticence in re-signing him, claiming they told him right away the club wouldnt be looking for more than a two-year deal at 3.5 million per.

The Twins were never really in the running, Crain said. They said from the very beginning they wouldnt sign anyone for more than three years or 3.5 million per year. They told former Minnesota Twins reliever Matt Guerrier the same thing. We didnt negotiate with them at all.

Crains departure is just the latest from the Twins, who have lost key late man Guerrier to the Los Angeles Dodgers and second baseman Orlando Hudson to the San Diego Padres, and have yet to come to terms with key free agent starter Carl Pavano.

Im not sure what direction theyre going, Crain said. Im not sure whos going to come up. They have some prospects but with not much experience. Losing me and Guerrier is definitely going to hurt them.

As for handing in his deep blue Twinkies PJs to become a White Sox man in black, changing pinstripes in the midst of an intense rivalry, Crain didnt hesitate to admit he was entering uncharted territory.

I dont know, its going to be weird, he said of facing his old team. Ive never been anywhere else. I have a lot of very good friends there. But its going to be fun to go back there and face them.

With the closers roleand the makeup of the 2011 bullpen itselfin flux, Crain was assured of a key role on the back end. When Williams talked to Crain, the GM had the short man plugged in between Matt Thornton and Chris Sale as the last right-hander out of the pen. Its not inconceivable to see all three hurlers, as well as Sergio Santos, getting shots to finish gamesand if so, Crain is eager to give the firemans role a shot.

I closed games growing up all through the minors (42 saves in four minor-league seasons and 29 for AAA Rochester in 2003 and 2004), Crain said. I was ready to close in 2004, but the team traded for Joe Nathan and I never got the chance.

While never a closer in the years since, as Nathan became the ensconced finisher for Minnesota, Crains career save percentage of .188 is something the hurler is looking to reverse.

I feel confident I can fill that closer role, he said. Im excited to get the opportunity to do that and looking forward to closing with the White Sox.

For a guy bred for years to execute White Sox hittersCrain is 5-2 with a 1.45 ERA in 45 career games vs. Chicagothe 61, 215-pound pitcher is giddy with excitement to hop to the South Side.

Its exciting. If youd asked me in September whether Id be pitching in Chicago next year, Id have had no idea, Crain said. When the White Sox contacted me last week, I was ecstatic. I dont see why was cant go to the World Series.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Preview: Jose Quintana, White Sox look to win sixth straight game on CSN

Preview: Jose Quintana, White Sox look to win sixth straight game on CSN

The White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals on Monday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jose Quintana (13-11, 3.21 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (8-19, 4.02 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.

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Todd Frazier, Miguel Gonzalez propel White Sox past Rays

Todd Frazier, Miguel Gonzalez propel White Sox past Rays

Todd Frazier reached the 40-home run plateau on Wednesday night and now his eyes are trained on 100 RBIs.

Frazier’s seventh-inning solo home run not only extended his hitting streak to 12 games, it provided the game’s only offense in a 1-0 White Sox victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in front of 12,976 at U.S. Cellular Field. Frazier became only the seventh player in franchise history to hit 40 homers in a season with his 394-foot drive off Rays pitcher Eddie Gamboa. The blast offered Miguel Gonzalez and David Robertson just enough support as they combined on a three-hit shutout. Robertson recorded his 37th save in 44 tries.

“It’s a big deal any time a guy rounds off that number,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s always a big deal for you. He’s been wanting to get there for a while. I don’t know if you guys know, but he’s been talking about it for a while. I know I’ve heard it a lot. He’s been aiming for that. He wants to get 40 and 100 and especially if it counts like it did tonight and gets a guy a win.”

Frazier entered the game hitting .305/.374/.568 with six homers and 14 RBIs in September, easily his best month of the season. His homer came on a cold, windy night in which offense was at a premium.

The game was delayed for 21 minutes by rain, which continued through the first inning. The rains came again in the bottom of the third inning and delayed the contest for another 76 minutes.

Tampa’s third pitcher of the night, Gamboa’s 76-mph knuckleball caught too much of the plate and Frazier planted it about eight rows beyond the left-field bullpen with two outs in the seventh.

“Not many people have hit 40 home runs in a year so it’s a good feat to have,” Frazier said.

“It’s a great feat to have. I had a bunch of people text me ‘It’s coming. Today is the day.’ It wasn’t that much pressure. It was just a matter of knowing that it’s there and I’m glad to get it over with and now it’s on to another goal of mine.”

Frazier has never driven in 100 runs in a season. His 98 RBIs this season are nine more than his previous career high of 89 that he set in 2015.

Gonzalez hadn’t pitched into the ninth inning since he threw a four-hit shutout on Sept. 3, 2014. To get there he had to stay loose and sharp throughout the second delay of the night. Gonzalez threw twice during the delay, a total of 25 pitches in the indoor cage, and stretched to stay loose.

But being his final start, Gonzalez wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. He returned after the delay and was remarkable. He had stretches where he retired eight in a row in the middle and nine straight into the ninth before he yielded a one-out single to Logan Forsythe.

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He allowed three hits, walked none and struck out five. Gonzalez threw strikes on 71 of 102 pitches.

Robertson took over and needed only one pitch to record the save as Kevin Kiermaier grounded into a game-ending double play.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been out there for the ninth inning,” Gonzalez said. “It took me two years to get there, but they were swinging early. I made some good pitches early on. Got some quick outs, that’s what you got me to the ninth inning.

“Staying loose was really the most important thing for it.

“I was mentally prepared. Obviously you can’t get away with it. It was my last start. I was going out no matter what and didn’t give in and the results were there.”