NEW YORK — The Tampa Bay Rays spent the past two months trying to get RHP Jesse Crain ready to pitch in these important late-season games. Now it is possible Crain might not pitch at all for the Rays this season.
“It’s possible he does not. I don’t deny that,” manager Joe Maddon said before Thursday’s game. “But it’s possible that he can.”
Crain has not pitched since June 29, when he was with the White Sox, because of a right shoulder strain.
Acquired July 29 in a trade, he was added to the active roster Monday. He warmed up during that game when the Rays trailed 4-2. But once RF Wil Myers tied the score with a seventh-inning double, Maddon went with his normal late-inning relievers.
Maddon said Crain felt discomfort when he played catch Tuesday.
“It just does not feel 100 percent right in the finishing of throwing the baseball,” Maddon said. “That’s it. It’s not awful. It’s not terrible, so we just got to stay with it. By (tonight) he might feel really good about it and I might actually use him in a game, I don’t know. It’s just been kind of a day-to-day thing. Some days he felt a little bit better than others, but nothing’s been horrid, but he’s just not there yet.”
The Rays begin the final three-game series of the season tonight in Toronto. While the Rays would love to have Crain in the postseason bullpen, the fact he has yet to pitch will make that difficult. Also, given the importance of each out as the Rays try to clinch a wild-card spot, it will be hard for Maddon to find a comfortable spot to see what Crain can do in a game.
“It’s unfortunate,” Maddon said. “He’s worked so hard to get to this point. We’re not ready to test it. Thought we were the other day, got him warmed up. He actually warmed up OK. He’s still not 100 percent comfortable going out there right now.”
A vote of confidence?
Based on how he’s pitched lately, and with LHP Enny Romero available, RHP Jeremy Hellickson does see his start tonight against the Blue Jays as a sign of confidence from Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.
“It’s nice that they have confidence in me to go out there,” Hellickson said. “I haven’t thrown like I’m capable of throwing. It’s nice of them to run me out there, but I feel like I can be the pitcher I have been.”
Hellickson allowed five runs in 2ª innings against Texas in his last start. He then pitched 2ß innings of scoreless ball and got the win in the Rays’ 18-inning victory against the Orioles. That took him out of Sunday’s start and created the opening for Romero.
Maddon has not hesitated going to the bullpen early when a starter falters, and Romero is rested. Hellickson said he knows that, but it won’t change the way he approaches the start.
“My mindset is to go out there and throw all nine (innings),” he said.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who will retire after this season, said farewell to Yankee Stadium on Thursday night. Maddon, naturally, has a place in Rivera’s legacy.
Maddon was the first-base coach for the Angels on May 23, 1995, when Rivera made his major-league debut. Rivera started for the Yankees and didn’t fare well in a 10-0 loss. Maddon was the Angels’ bench coach May 18, 1996, when Rivera earned his first big-league save.
When asked about Rivera’s legacy, Maddon pointed to the traditional baseball arguments — Who’s the best center fielder? Who’s the best shortstop of all time?
Maddon said there is no argument when it comes to the best closer of all time.
“So when you’re the best without any argument, that really concludes how good he was,” Maddon said.
The Yankees entered Thursday’s game having hit nine home runs all season against the Rays. 3B Evan Longoria has nine home runs this season against the Yankees. He is the third player since 1961 to hit at least nine home runs in one season against the Yankees, joining Fred Whitfield (10 in 1965) and Jose Cruz Jr. (nine in 2001). … Wednesday’s game drew a 7.9 rating on Sun Sports, making it the No. 1 prime time show in the market, beating out “Survivor” and “Modern Family.” … RHP J.D. Martin cleared waivers and accepted his assignment to Durham. … RHP Jamey Wright has played more seasons (18) without reaching the postseason than any other active player.