Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.

Baker is Baker, Crain is Crain

Posted by: Howard Sinker under Twins pitching Updated: April 29, 2010 - 10:05 AM

I've never been a huge Scott Baker fan but I've also been guilty at times of underestimating his contributions.

Last year after five starts he was 1-4, 6.83 -- and that included seven shutout innings against Seattle in his fifth start. He pretty much pitched his way out of the early-season muck to finish the season with 15 wins and a respectable ERA. That allows some perspective of what happened when he spit up most of Tuesday night's five-run lead and the bullpen combined with umpire Paul Emmel to do the rest.

If we can allow ourselves to skip forward to October for a moment -- a highly unwise thing in 99 out of 100 cases at this point of the season -- Baker's badness reinforced the fact that the Twins do not have the No. 1 guy (Sabathia, Halladay, Beckett, Johan, Carpenter, Verlander) in the rotation that you can feel good about setting up your rotation around in the postseason.

Francisco Liriano may become that guy, but I'm not turning him into C. Johan Sabathatana based on three excellent starts.

And Jesse Crain. What to do about Jesse Crain? The challenge of Crain is what makes baseball so maddening.

I can grumble from now until his next outing about worthlessness and too-straight fastballs and hanging breaking balls.

I can also show you a six-week stretch from last season when he gave up one run and put only 16 runners on base in 18 innings. It happened to be the final six weeks of last season, when the Twins needed him to be that good in order to catch and pass the Tigers to win the AL Central.  And I can show one a one-month stretch of April and May 2009 where he posted a 16.88 ERA and looked a lot like his recent unimpressive self. The stench tends to overshadow the sweetness when we talk about all but our favorite players.

If Justin Morneau struck out three straight times as badly as he did Tuesday in three late-game pinch hitting situations, would he be the Jesse Crain of the bench -- someone for whom we would be demanding a one way ticket to Rochester or Kansas City?

Managers and pitching coaches have bad stomachs and sweat more than most guys their age because of guys like Jesse Crain. The trick is somehow to ride 'em when they're hot and, when they're not, figure out the way to get them back to where they can make the major contributions that we expect from them every time they go to the mound.

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