Given that the Rays acquired him back on July 29th, the fact that Jesse Crain still hasn’t pitched for the Rays seems to be a severe disappointment. When you think about it, though, Crain getting into a game now is simply icing on the cake. The Rays acquired Crain from the White Sox for future considerations that would be based on how much he pitched. They expected nothing and would have only needed to send the White Sox some cash had he not appeared in the game. Instead, here is finally ready to make his Rays debut. Crain isn’t young at 31 years old, but the timing of his long-awaited Rays debut fits perfectly with the timeframe that the Rays called up players like David Price and Matt Moore late in the 2008 and 2011 season to impact the rest of the regular season and the playoffs as well. And while Crain is certainly no ace starting pitcher, his ability to influence the Rays’ hopes the rest of the year could be even more significant.
Jesse Crain is an outstanding major league relief pitcher. In 38 relief appearances and 36.2 innings pitched for the White Sox this season before getting hurt, Crain managed a 0.74 ERA, an 11.3 K/9, a 2.7 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9. The past four years, Crain has a 2.39 ERA, a 9.8 K/9, a 3.8 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 218 innings pitched. Crain has never closed for any extended period of time, saving just 4 games in his career, but with a mid-90’s fastball, two strong breaking pitches, and a solid split-finger, Crain has emerged as one of the best setup relievers in baseball the last several years. The Rays can’t expect him to come back and pick up right where he left off pre-injury, but if he’s anything like the pitcher that he has been the last four seasons, he will be pitching high-leverage innings for the Rays in no time. Joel Peralta has been effective but has worn down from his heavy workload. Alex Torres has great stuff but is still learning to harness it consistently in big spots. Jake McGee, meanwhile, has an electric fastball but his lack an effective secondary pitch limits what he can do. If Crain comes back strong, though, there is nothing holding him back from giving Joe Maddon another option he could trust for the 8th inning to keep everyone fresh and, most importantly, make sure that the late-innings get locked down. Crain is unlikely to be a pitcher that Maddon can utilize every game or every other game right off the bat, but he has the ability to be a weapon whenever the Rays enter the latter portion of the game with a lead and make his presence felt immediately.
You want your trade deadline acquisitions to start pitching as soon as you acquire them. But Crain coming back now gives the Rays something that no other team in baseball is getting for the regular season’s final week: a veteran and extremely effective high-leverage arm poised to make up for his lost time. We will see what he looks in the next few days, but as long as he’s healthy, Crain is no wild card, no unproven prospect, but instead an established player who is one of the best in baseball at his craft. No matter how you feel about the Rays’ acquisition of Crain right now, don’t be surprised if its hailed as another Andrew Friedman stroke of genius by the end of the year.