Craig James: From unheralded to unhittable

APPLETON, Wisc. - There has been a recurring theme throughout the first month of the Midwest League baseball season in Wisconsin. It goes something like this: the Timber Rattlers take a lead into the later innings, and, needing someone to hold the lead, they call upon right-handed setup man Craig James.

The theme has been one that has worked quite well for the Timber Rattlers.

James, a 22-year-old Florida native originally drafted by San Francisco, has yet to allow a run this season. Not a one.

His incredible success has stemmed from a no-nonsense mentality only a reliever can fully understand.

"(I just want to) keep the game at even, ya know," said James. "All my teammates are counting on me, so you have to come out and throw strikes.

"As the game goes along, you see where it is going, and with things adding up, I feed off that. I just love that."

James pitched in Saturday's loss to Dayton, tossing one inning of scoreless ball. That one inning, strangely enough, didn't help his ERA one bit. It simply remained at zero, as in 0.00.

Entering play Wednesday, the Wisconsin right-hander had appeared in seven games, pitched 10.2 scoreless innings on his way to a 2-0 record, and converted the only save opportunity he had. Opponents have hit a measly .188 against him. And, as if that isn't impressive enough, he's struck out 10 and allowed just six hits and two walks.

The key?

"I just don't try to do too much," James said. "If you try and do too much, everything (becomes) individual, and you just have to play as a team (to win)."

This type of shutout ball isn't surprising to James, who pitched for the Peoria Mariners the past two seasons. Last year, the affable right-hander was 1-1 with a remarkable 0.67 ERA.

Wisconsin pitching coach Brad Holman says James has been dominant due to the manner in which he's approached each hitter that's come to the plate.

"Aggressiveness… he's not afraid of the batter," Holman said. "He goes right after hitters. Not to mention he's got good stuff coming out of his hand. He's got a good fastball, good curve, has good command of his pitches, and a good change-up to go along with it that he only shows once in awhile."

Through no fault of his own, the Timber Rattlers' have been sliding a bit lately; something James' doesn't like, or expect to continue.

"We're not happy with losing," said James. "We're all competitors and we like to win. I don't think anybody likes to be on a team that's losing. But when we play as a team, we're unbeatable. We're right up there."

Overall, the Timber Rattlers have had a great start, in large part to their explosive offense and timely pitching. But the offense has faltered slightly as of late, showing signs that it'll have to rely more heavily on the starting pitching and bullpen to get them through games. This is something James looks forward to, if it is indeed the case.

"I just want to give my teammates a chance to go ahead, and keep the other guys from scoring any runs," said James. "You know, try to pick our spirits up whatever the situation."

Thus far, no matter the situation, James has done just that, proving to teams who bypassed him in the draft that maybe, just maybe, they made a mistake.

So, while other teams have the burden of trying to figure out how to hit Craig James, Rattlers' players and fans aren't shy about letting their enthusiasm show when talking about the reliever.

They're thrilled to have No. 30 in their bullpen.

Seattle Clubhouse Top Stories