Jesse Crain’s ERA, which leads American League relievers. Crain hasn’t allowed a run since April 10.
Updated: July 19, 2013 6:33AM
HOUSTON — Matt Thornton knows a lock for the All-Star Game when he sees one, and he has watched White Sox teammate Jesse Crain pitch flawlessly in almost every one of his relief appearances, so . . .
“At this point in the season, if he doesn’t make the All-Star team, it’s a joke,’’ Thornton said. “He’s dominated every outing he’s been in. It’s been like no contest every time he goes out there.’’
While their role can be as important as the closer’s role, recognition for setup men can be fleeting. The pay scale isn’t as high, and they don’t make All-Star teams as often, although Thornton made the American League team in 2010. While seventh- and eighth-inning relievers are the Rodney Dangerfields of pitching staffs, they’ve gained more respect since Dangerfield’s stand-up act was hot.
“It’s become more appreciated in the last five or 10 years,’’ Thornton said. “People don’t realize how important it is until games are lost then. Jesse strikes out the side in the eighth inning, Addison Reed gets the save and our starter goes seven strong, but you don’t hear about Jesse Crain unless you look at the box score. But people in baseball realize how good Jesse is.’’
Here’s how good Crain is. His 0.60 ERA leads AL relievers, and he hasn’t allowed a run since April 12 in Cleveland, taking streaks of 26 scoreless appearances and 251/3 innings into the game against the Astros on Monday night — the longest streaks by a Sox reliever since J.J. Putz (27 appearances, 27 innings) in 2010.
Closers get saves and setup men have holds, and Crain, with 17, is on pace to break Luke Gregerson’s big-league record of 40 holds in 2010.
“As a setup man, you usually have to have success numerous years in a row [to be an All-Star],’’ Thornton said. “Jesse has had some good years over his career, people know who he is, and he’s a guy who takes the ball a lot. He’s gone from having good years over the last few [ERAs of 2.62 and 2.44 his first two years with the Sox] to having one of the best I’ve ever seen.
“He’s just as important as Addison Reed. He’s our eighth-inning closer right now. I would be really surprised and disappointed if he didn’t make it.’’
Oddly enough, Crain, whose three-year contract expires after the season, could wear a different uniform to the All-Star Game. General manager Rick Hahn is moving closer to the realization that his sinking team has no shot at the postseason, and he could get something in trades for Crain and Thornton, whose contract is also up (with a club option for 2014) after the season.
In free agency, Crain, who turns 32 on July 5, could be considered as a closer, a role he has quietly wished for.
“It could be,’’ Crain said. “I don’t know what teams think. I definitely think I could do it. That’s for teams to say. I’ve never had the opportunity to close. It would be fun to get that opportunity, but I enjoy pitching the eighth.’’
Crain, who knows an All-Star opportunity is fleeting for setup men, said he’d be honored. With pitchers parading to the mound from the bullpen throughout All-Star Games, “you should have a few guys who throw in the middle of games that deserve a shot,’’ he said.
“I’m happy when non-closers get the opportunity. The seventh or eighth inning makes or breaks the game. Sometimes it’s bigger [than the ninth]. If you come in with a couple of guys on and get out of it, that’s the game right there.’’