The moment I saw Jesse Crain warming up Sunday, I knew the Twins were in trouble.
And sure enough, four of the five men he faced in the bottom of the ninth reached safely, which was more than enough for the Cubs to break the 2-2 tie.
Crain this month has faced 17 batters, eight of whom have either gotten a hit or walk.
The telling quote from Ron Gardenhire after the game: "You try to find the right situation to put him in ballgames, but when you get to this point there is no right situation."
I have some sympathy for Gardy on this one: Matt Guerrier had pitched on June 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13 — five times in six days. Granted, most of those outings were brief — he totaled eight outs in those five games — but that's still excessive use. Luis Ayala had pitched the eighth — more on that later. And the Cubs had a string of right-handed hitters up, so it's understandable that he wanted to avoid calling on Sean Henn or Jose Mijares.
Which left Joe Nathan, Crain or R.A. Dickey. Nathan had pitched four times in five days himself, so he wasn't going to be asked to pitch multiple innings. And Dickey ...
Well, frankly, why not Dickey? I know: He's the long man. Well, guess what? He's been far more effective than Crain — his ERA since April is 1.52 — he's right-handed, and if the game goes extra innings, he's equipped to soak up the extra work. And he hadn't pitched in a week.
The underlying issue here remains bullpen depth. Guerrier has been far better than I could have hoped; Mijares has bounced back from his spring training disaster; Henn and Ayala are contributing in limited fashion; and Dickey has been marvelous in the long role.
Crain's supposed to be the eighth-inning right-handed power arm. And he's been useless.
The Gardenhire quote above sounds like he's running out of patience with Crain. A lot of fans reached that point a few weeks ago.
Ayala had a perfect eighth inning Sunday — three up-three down, three first-pitch strikes, even a strikeout.
And somehow it took him 22 pitches to accomplish it, because there were 10 foul balls. The man just cannot miss bats.
Which is why I say he's useful in a limited fashion.