Twins fans are growing increasingly frustrated with Jesse Crain. The right-hander has been abysmal this season, owning a ghastly 7.31 ERA and 1.56 WHIP through 16 appearances. Seemingly every time he's taken the hill for the Twins this season, Crain has seen his straight fastballs laced into the outfield gaps or over the fences. He's a mess.
This is, of course, not the first time we've seen these types of early struggles from Crain. Last year on this date, his ERA stood at 8.25 and his WHIP at 1.58. Crain continued to pitch poorly into June, and midway through that month he found himself demoted to Triple-A with a bloated ERA and nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (13).
As most are probably aware, Crain's minor-league stint did him some good and he returned to the Twins as a different pitcher in July, posting a 2.91 EA and 30-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 34 innings after returning. After being knocked around with consistency early in the year, Crain rattled off 17 consecutive scoreless appearances during one stretch in August and September.
The strong showing down the stretch was enough to convince the Twins that Crain was worth bringing back at a relatively expensive $2 million price tag. Now, the righty is struggling early again. Opponents are hitting .303/.352/.576 against him. He's yielded three homers and nine doubles in 16 innings. Recently, things have only looked worse; over his past four appearances he has allowed five runs on six hits (two homers) while walking two and striking out only one of the 14 batters he's faced.
Quite frankly, Crain appears to have no business being in the big leagues. While his velocity is fine -- Crain's fastball is averaging 94.3 miles per hour, which is where it's been for the past several years -- the lack of movement on his pitches is allowing opposing hitters to elevate the ball and drive it with authority.
The Twins have stated that they'd like Crain to start putting more sink on his pitches and they seem to have a point, as only 30.2 percent of batted balls against him are going on the ground (his previous career low in this category was 40.6 percent) while 50.9 percent are getting hit in the air (previous career high was 42.2 percent).
The Twins made a significant investment in Crain during the offseason and there's no doubt that he has the raw stuff to succeed as a big-leaguer. But sending him to the minor leagues to get straight isn't an option this year, and as the numbers listed above indicate, there's no reason to think he's on the road to significant improvement.
The Twins' recent promotion of Jeff Manship to the big-league roster gives the Twins 13 pitchers, an ominous sign for the struggling Crain. When J.J. Hardy is ready to come off the disabled list this weekend, we may see the righty reliever designated for assignment, with numerous right-handed options existing in Triple-A.
Right now, Crain looks to be headed the wrong way on a one-way track. It might be too late to get turned around.