April 20, 2009

Bum Shoulder Lands Crain On Disabled List

Jesse Crain complained of arm soreness after throwing 30 pitches Friday, took the weekend off, and was placed on the disabled list yesterday with what the Twins are calling right shoulder inflammation. Crain previously underwent shoulder surgery in 2007. Jose Mijares has been recalled from Triple-A to take Crain's place on the roster and may find himself thrust right back into a key late-inning role despite failing to make the team out of spring training due to weight gain and a 9.90 ERA.

Ron Gardenhire likes a 12-man pitching staff because in theory it divides up the relief workload seven ways, but it never quite works like that in practice. Instead, what usually happens is that Gardenhire continues to lean extremely hard on the most-trusted setup man because his usage of Joe Nathan in the closer role is so rigid, and the extra guy in the bullpen just leaves more room for the least-trusted relievers to collect dust.

Gardenhire has proven season after season that he'll likely run his primary setup man into the ground whether he has six relievers or nine relievers to choose from on a given night, and in this case having a 12-man pitching staff didn't keep him from using Crain seven times in the first 12 games. Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, and Juan Rincon couldn't handle that workload and neither can Crain, who made three more appearances and threw over twice as many pitches than Nathan through a dozen games.

When you save the best reliever on the team for 65 innings each season and increasingly burn through the middle relievers two batters at a time in the name of matchups, that leaves little choice but to trot out the primary setup man every other game for however long his arm can handle it. And because general manager Bill Smith failed to properly address the bullpen this winter those honors fell to Crain, who's now hoping that a couple weeks off can help him avoid the same fate as Guerrier (or Neshek).

Mijares is stepping into a pretty ugly bullpen situation, as Craig Breslow has basically been turned into a left-handed specialist, Guerrier and Luis Ayala continue to look cooked after struggling last year, R.A. Dickey's knuckleball shouldn't be trusted with runners on base or in key situations, and Juan Morillo's mid-90s Nuke LaLoosh act is reserved for mop-up duties. Smith handed Gardenhire a motley crew to work with and the results have been predictably poor, which is why overworking Crain was inevitable.

The good news is that Mijares rebounded from his disastrous spring with five scoreless appearances at Triple-A, posting a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while giving up just two hits over 6.1 innings. He'll no doubt get all the high-leverage work his 24-year-old arm can take and perhaps Gardenhire will actually have a pair of setup men he trusts once Crain returns. If instead Mijares struggles, the Twins may have no choice but to see what Robert Delaney and Anthony Slama can do with a call-up from Double-A.

Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

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