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Crain's shoulder woes could leave bullpen baby-faced

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Jesse Crain
Jesse Crain

Jesse Crain has battled one obstacle after another this season, and this time, it's right-shoulder tightness that is holding him back. He's been unavailable since the Sox headed to New York, he won't be able to pitch on Sunday, and the surprising and vague nature of its appearance has Crain frustrated:

Crain hasn't pitched since Saturday and said he continues to feel stiffness that prompted a visit Thursday to the offices of surgeon David Altchek, who operated on his shoulder in 2007. An MRI wasn't required, but Crain is frustrated over his latest setback. He missed nearly two weeks in spring training because of a right oblique strain and went on the DL from April 21 to May 14 with a left oblique strain.

"It's the way the year has gone," Crain said. "I haven't had a year like this in my career. It seems like new things pop up every day, whether it's an oblique or shoulder or hand, foot and mouth disease. All that stuff has been unbelievable."

Since he hasn't appeared in a game since June 23, he's crossing the point where a retroactive DL stint only costs him a few more days. But it would force the Sox to shelve another veteran, and in the process, scrub the last remaining signature facial hair from the bullpen.

The White Sox bullpen was a bastion of weird facial hair in years past for varying purposes -- individual expression, intimidation, an attempt to define a chin -- and the Sox usually carried at least three goatees at a time. J.J. Putz usually went with a soul patch, Scott Linebrink wore the Southern standard, and Bobby Jenks abused the style with a wide variety of looks, shapes and colors.

But the practice has taken a hit as the Sox bullpen shifts younger, especially with the last move. Brian Bruney, who looked like he was back on the train to Beardtown, was replaced by Brian Omogrosso, who has nothing to offer in this area, per video evidence.

Go down the list, and Crain's the only guy anybody can count on. The five rookies haven't shown much interest as a group -- Hector Santiago dabbles in stubble, and Leyson Septimo and Omogrosso have goatees in their past. Nate Jones and Addison Reed, not even that. Looking at the potential candidates to replace Crain, and it's more of the same.

Matt Thornton has been the wild card this year, in a surprising turn of events. He barely sported a five o'clock shadow for the first five years we knew him, but a full beard exploded on him in the offseason, and it has come back a couple of times since. As noteworthy as it would be to see a bullpen devoid of facial hair, Thornton might have to keep it. He's the bullpen's senior member by far nowadays (Robin Ventura called "the grandpa"), and if the Sox want the rookies to absorb his wisdom, Thornton should encourage them by growing his beard out as much as his pitching motion will allow.