Crain a low-risk, high-reward gamble

CHICAGO -- After missing the last year and a half because of a shoulder injury that required surgery, Jesse Crain makes no promises other than the fact that he will do his best to make the Chicago White Sox roster.

The right-handed reliever was a surprise addition when minor league free agents were announced by the team Thursday, a list that included veteran starting pitcher Brad Penny, veteran catchers George Kottaras and Geovany Soto and outfielder Tony Campana, among others.

Crain pitched three seasons for the White Sox from 2011 to 2013 and only seemed to get better as he got older. Then the bad news struck in 2013 when he went on the disabled list with a sore shoulder in the midst of a season when he had posted a 0.77 ERA over 38 appearances and made the American League All-Star team. He never got to pitch in the All-Star Game.

Crain bounced around from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Houston Astros organizations after that, but the closest he got to pitching again was a simulated game late last season with the Astros.

He knows he has to prove himself again at 33, but he also feels it’s an advantage that the White Sox and pitching coach Don Cooper are well aware of his capabilities. He has no doubt he can be the same pitcher again.

“That’s the plan, that’s the goal,” Crain said Thursday. “I wish I could read in what my stuff is going to be like. When I throw and when I feel good it’s there. At this point of my career with the age I am at and surgeries I have had, I am finding out the way to get back to that point. I’m tweaking things in my process of getting ready and throwing. I am super positive that it’s going to be back where it was.”

After his simulated game late in the season, Crain shut things down just like he would in a regular offseason. He started throwing again two weeks ago and is already throwing from 120 feet with the confidence that he can be at full strength by April.

“I hope so,” he said. “Spring training is a little longer and I feel if all can go well and normal like it would in the past. In 2013, the last spring training when I had the best half of my career, I threw two or three innings in spring training and one exhibition and I felt like I was there. The way it’s progressing and the program I am on, it will help me get to that point sooner.”

Cooper knows there are no guarantees when it comes to a pitcher than has missed so much time, but he’s more than up for the work ahead with Crain.

“He and I are going to sit down and map out a plan when he lands in Arizona,” Cooper said. “And I’m not a patient guy, but for this I’m going to be patient. If we get him at some time during the year, if we get the availability of Nate Jones during the year, we know what Jesse can provide. We know what a quality person as well as a pitcher he is. That’s the reason why we signed him. If we can get him back healthy, he can give us a nice shot in the arm at some point.”

Cooper is so thrilled to work with Crain again, he even sent him some smiley face emoticons in a text around Christmas when the White Sox were talking about bringing him aboard.

“He admitted that?” Crain said. “I told him I wouldn’t tell anybody, but he put about three of them on there. Pretty funny.”

As for the 37-year-old Penny, he figures to be a long shot to make the club, but Cooper is up for that challenge as well.

“It’s funny because he sent me one video of one pitch,” Cooper said. “I got it and I said this is making me want me see the rest of the movie. He’s going to film it on Monday. We’ve been talking. He’s in a different spot than a lot of guys because he’s had success in the past and he’s trying to get back to that.”