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Crain hopes to set up Twins victories

Crain hopes to set up Twins victories

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Pitching in the eighth inning is nothing new to Twins right-hander Jesse Crain.

Before injuring his shoulder last May, which required season-ending surgery, Crain had been sharing eighth-inning duties with right-hander Pat Neshek. He had also spent quite a bit of time as the Twins' setup man in both the 2005 and '06 seasons.

Now with Neshek set to miss the rest of the 2008 season due to a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, Crain once again appears to be the primary candidate for the spot.

"I think Crain is my first choice," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said on Saturday of his eighth-inning options. "We'll go with matchups, where we're at and what guys have done against other teams. I think we'll go Crain and Matt Guerrier, and then we'll probably use [left-hander Dennys] Reyes to get some of those lefties out in those innings.

Crain pitched in the ninth inning of Friday night's 7-6 victory over the Red Sox when the Twins were still trailing, 6-5. He allowed two hits in the inning, but recorded two strikeouts and a popout to get out of the inning unscathed. And it was the type of pitches Crain had working that reinforced Gardenhire's confidence in him.

"I think that with his stuff, he can absolutely handle it," Gardenhire said. "Using that breaking ball like you saw last night -- that curveball, that back-door breaking ball -- his fastball is good enough, obviously. He's throwing it well."

Crain could be called on again in the eighth inning when the Twins face the Red Sox in Game 3 of their four-game series on Sunday night. Minnesota will be featured in the ESPN Sunday night game on Mother's Day for the third straight year.

Pitching matchup
MIN: RHP Nick Blackburn (2-2, 3.65 ERA)
The right-hander hasn't been nearly as sharp in his recent outings as he was to start the season. Blackburn admits that he's not feeling comfortable on the mound right now. Partly to blame is a change in his stride. Last year, the pitcher lengthened his stride and subsequently threw 44 straight scoreless innings for Triple-A Rochester. Somehow over the course of the winter, that stride shortened. Blackburn is trying to relocate it in his bullpen sessions and side work. The hope is he'll have regained it by his start against the Red Sox. In his lone relief appearance against Boston last season, Blackburn gave up four runs in just one inning.

BOS: RHP Tim Wakefield (3-1, 3.33 ERA)
Wakefield had arguably his best start of the season against the Tigers. He allowed no runs and two hits, while striking out six in eight sharp innings. He allowed just one baserunner in his first six innings. Wakefield has a 13-4 record with a 4.00 ERA in 21 career starts against the Twins. He allowed three earned runs in two starts against them last season.

Tidbits
Scott Baker could test his strained groin sometime this week to see if he can throw a bullpen session without any problems. If that's the case, Gardenhire said Baker could head to Florida for a rehab assignment so that he's ready to pitch on May 19, when he's eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list. ... Mike Lamb's three-hit game on Saturday night was his third of the season. ... Reyes has yet to allow a run in 10 1/3 innings this season.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• ESPN

On radio
• KSTP-AM/TRN, KMNV / KMNQ (Español)

Up next
• Monday: Twins (Livan Hernandez, 5-1, 3.83) vs. Red Sox (Clay Buchholz, 2-2, 4.50), 6:05 p.m. CT
• Tuesday: Twins (Kevin Slowey, 0-2, 6.48) vs. Blue Jays (Jesse Litsch, 4-1, 4.24), 7:10 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Twins (Boof Bonser, 2-4, 5.09) vs. Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, 3-5, 3.29), 7:10 p.m. CT

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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