Getting the call
Rangers counting on unproven Crabtree to close games
Updated: Thursday March 01, 2001 10:09 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- There are questions about the Texas Rangers, lots and lots of questions. There is an entire gaggle of them, in fact, a practical A-Rod autograph mob of the pesky little buggers.
Tim Crabtree, a tall right-hander with a newly shaved head and a live fastball, is one of the biggest "Who knows?" in the Rangers' camp. He is the team's new closer, the man who will be called on when the Rangers get a lead (which, judging by their lineup, they ought to do some) and when the starters falter (which, judging by the rotation, they will).
"This is something I've worked for six years," Crabtree said in the coolness of the Rangers' clubhouse at Charlotte County Stadium. "I've done the middle-relief stuff, the setup stuff. My goal, my long-term expectation, was to be a closer. So this is my opportunity."
Still, even Crabtree admits to having a question or two about his situation. How long it will be, for instance, until he feels the unquestioned backing of his teammates and his manager? How he will react when someone homers off his best pitch?
How the heck he will take over for John Wetteland, for goodness sakes?
"I'm sure I'll be nervous," he admits. " I want to go from a 'potential' closer to a proven closer [quickly], so that by the time May rolls around, it's old hat.
"But until I've done it for a whole year, I'm still going to be one of the people with the question marks out there."
It's not that Crabtree, 31, isn't confident. Armed with a mid-90's fastball, a decent slider, and a developing curveball, the 6-foot-4 reliever has the air of a player who is raring to get at it. But who knows?
Crabtree has five saves in his five-plus years in the majors. He has four times as many blown saves. He has been dominant at times, though his mechanics have been described as "quirky" and he isn't a blow-'em-away strikeout artist either. But he says he can do the job.
"Dan Quisenberry didn't throw it 100 mph," says Doug Melvin, an old right-hander himself and now the team's general manager Melvin. "We just want outs.
"We're going to give him the opportunity. But if you haven't done it before, there are always questions."
Crabtree has struggled at times -- the Toronto Blue Jays gave up on him and dealt him to the Rangers before the '98 season -- but he's had success, too, going 11-2 over the 1998 and '99 seasons.
Still, if it weren't for Wetteland's bum back, Crabtree may never have had this chance. Only now are people starting to believe that Wetteland, the one-time Texas and New York Yankees stopper, probably never will return.
Crabtree has known that, or at least strongly suspected it, for most of the winter. So he has spent the time working himself into the mindset of a closer. He likes the idea of it. He likes the title.
"In a way, I like being looked to as a go-to guy," he says. "I'm not a pressure monger or anything. I'm not into the show. I'll just do what I watched John [Wetteland] do. When manager Johnny [Oates] calls down, get up and get ready and go in there and do your job."
By all accounts, Crabtree will have his chances. Texas' starters are startlingly suspect. It's Kenny Rogers and Rick Helling and many more question marks. Still, if the Texas hitters can do their part -- lots is expected of a lineup that includes Alex Rodriguez, Andres Galarraga, Ivan Rodriguez, Ken Caminiti and Rafael Palmeiro -- the Rangers may find themselves ahead a lot.
Again, that's where Crabtree comes in.
"You look at a guy like [Yankees closer] Mariano Rivera. The thing that stands out about him is he stays within himself. He reflects a lot of confidence," Crabtree says. "I'd like to get to that point where I see that confidence out of my teammates and my manager."
That confidence can only come, of course, with doing his job. The Rangers have been working hard to get Crabtree, a notoriously slow starter (an 8.60 ERA in April), off to a good start. With 19 of their first 20 games inside the division, the Rangers can't afford to play around.
Ironically, maybe, the Rangers may not find out about their closer until he fails.
"I don't think you can tell 'til you see him give it up," Oates said. "It's the finality of it. You're either the hero or the goat."
Even Crabtree -- as confident as he is, as experienced in longer relief as he is, as badly as everyone around him wants him to do well -- has no clue as to how he'll react to a one-pitch failure.
"I realize I haven't had a lot of experience dealing with that. That's where the question marks of being a closer [he puts his fingers in imaginary quote marks] come into play," he says.
"No, I don't know yet. I really don't."
No one does.