After Jesse Crain couldn't retire three Indians before hitting his 25-pitch limit on Wednesday, his optimism didn't surprise me, but Robin Ventura's did. Crain didn't have much in the way of life or location, and Cleveland hitters pasted him accordingly.
But after his scoreless inning against the Brewers on Friday, I'm on board the Opening Day Express. Crain looked like his old self. He allowed an infield single -- a weak grounder that hit third base -- but erased it with a strikeout of Carlos Gomez and a double-play ball. He blew two fastballs by Gomez, and his slider induced a couple of unsure swings (or checked-swings), too.
"I had to let it go and not think about my leg at all and throw like I throw during the season, and it responded well and make good, crisp pitches," said Crain, who had been nagged for three weeks with a right adductor strain. "It probably was the best stuff I’ve had all spring, along from the first game I threw. It felt good."
"We didn’t see his velocity in Arizona, but you could see it here,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘He looked like himself. He looked ready."
As long as he feels good coming down from the appearance today, he'll be on the team. It'd be nice if the Sox offense could afford him a few low-leverage opportunities in the first week in order to make sure he can repeat it.
Alex Rios also played for the first time in a week, and he had plenty of opportunities to test out his back. It didn't seem to bother him -- he legged out a double, drew two walks and scored two runs.
"I saw a lot of pitches and that was my goal today, to see as many pitches as I could, and see if I felt good, and I did," Rios said after his club's 7-2 win. "I had to run a lot today."
Assuming Crain and Rios don't wake up funny, that resolves the last two roster questions for Opening Day. As a bonus, Ventura also answered a third:
Conor Gillaspie, who plays third when Keppinger moves to second or first, is the emergency third catcher and the fifth outfielder, Ventura said.
"I don't know if he has pitched yet," Ventura quipped. "These are things we think about all day long."