ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The talk excited Jesse Crain, and when a trade to the Tampa Bay Rays occurred, he was prepared to live the other side. Since 2004, he had observed the Rays’ culture as a member of the Minnesota Twins (seven seasons) and Chicago White Sox (three). He had some idea what to expect.
He had formed perceptions over time: That Tampa Bay’s clubhouse was fun, it was loose, that players there could be both committed and carefree.
“They find ways to win,” Crain said. “Obviously, they have the best pitching in the league all the way through. They pick up guys who are doing really well and might struggle for a year or two and the next thing you know, they’re awesome.”
Crain, most recently a White Sox reliever, was traded to the Rays on Monday. He stood near his stall Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field, before Tampa Bay’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, as a member of his new team in his new home stadium for the first time. He represents the Rays’ attempt to bolster its bullpen in what should be a competitive American League East race.
Crain comes with promising credentials. He was named a first-time All-Star this season, posting a 0.74 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 36-2/3 innings in the first half. He had not pitched in a game since appearing against the Cleveland Indians on June 29, however, because of a right shoulder strain. He was added to the Rays’ 40-man roster but kept on the 15-day disabled list.
A 10-year veteran, he has a career 45-30 record with a 3.05 ERA in 532 relief appearances.
“When I’m not playing, I had nothing else to think about,” Crain said of hearing trade chatter. “When it came through, I was very excited. It was a tough (season) over there. We were going through some tough times.”
He will see better times with the Rays. Tampa Bay entered play Wednesday at 64-43, a half game ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. The White Sox, meanwhile, have floundered most of the season and sit firmly in the AL Central cellar at 40-64.
A timetable for Crain’s return remains unclear. He said he hopes to enter the Rays’ bullpen “sooner than later,” with a personal goal of pitching again sometime in August. Meanwhile, manager Joe Maddon was vague in placing a target date on Crain’s first appearance, instead leaving his trust in head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield’s evaluation.
“The hope is to get him well,” Maddon said. “We don’t have any specific time frames yet. All I know is that he is in the right hands with Ronnie Porterfield and the boys upstairs. I don’t know exactly the time frame. We just anticipate it’s going to be in time to help us.”
Crain anticipates the acclimation process being somewhat simple. Shortly after the trade was announced, he spoke with White Sox infielder Jeff Keppinger, who played 115 games for the Rays last season.
Keppinger’s message: Crain would enjoy himself. For the reliever, a trade to Tampa Bay represents a new beginning and an uncommon chance.
“To be traded while you’re on the DL doesn’t happen very often,” Crain said. “To come to a team like this, first place, I’ve heard great things about them. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s an awesome opportunity.”