Wednesday, May 31st, 2017...1:12 pm

Craig Breslow’s in the bullpen

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Jewish relief pitcher Craig Breslow changes up his delivery and it seems to be working

By MORDECAI SPECTOR

When the Jewish World last talked with Craig Breslow, he was in his fifth season in the Big Leagues and pitching for the Twins. During a rough patch in 2009, the Twins waived the left-handed relief pitcher. Since then, Breslow has played with four different teams, including a stint with the Boston Red Sox, in which he earned a 2013 World Series championship ring.

He also played briefly on the Israeli team in the World Baseball Classic last year.

Breslow, 36, signed again with the Twins this year, and he’s been effective when called on for relief work.

Craig Breslow on returning to the Twins: I felt it was a good opportunity for me. (Photo: Courtesy of Minnesota Twins)

(Prior to Monday’s game against the Houston Astros, in which the bullpen gave up 14 runs in the eighth and ninth innings, Breslow had a stellar 1.47 earned run average. He was among the relievers nicked by the Astros’ hot bats — he gave up three earned runs in a third of an inning — and his ERA went to 2.89, which is still very good.)

In the hallway leading to the Twins dugout, Breslow talked to the AJW, prior to the May 17 game against the Colorado Rockies (which was delayed for rain, then postponed until the following night).

Regarding his return to Minnesota, Breslow comments, “I felt it was a good opportunity for me… there was some new leadership with [chief baseball officer] Derek Falvey and [general manager] Thad Levine.”

Breslow had conversations with Falvey in the off-season, as he was considering offers from a number of teams.

“I really liked the vision that he brought to the organization, the appreciation for what I had done with making some mechanical adjustments, and recognizing that there was a pretty strong nucleus of young players here that could turn things around very quickly.”

It should be mentioned, as far as turning things around, that the Twins lost 103 games last season. They were the worst team in Major League Baseball.

Breslow adds that Falvey and Levine “showed a pretty keen appreciation for the value of veteran leadership, and recognized the totality of what I could bring to an organization beyond just what I would do on the field.”

A Yale graduate with degrees in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, Breslow employed some scientific analysis to correct his delivery — the “mechanical adjustments” mentioned above.

“I lowered my arm slot to give me a little bit more deception, a little bit more movement on my fastball, a little more horizontal sweep to my breaking ball, making it a tougher left-on-left pitch — hopefully, reinvented myself,” he explains.

After throwing in a January showcase, Breslow says a number of teams were interested in the potential that he displayed. And he went with the Twins.

Looking for an authoritative view on the new, improved Breslow, I approached Jack Morris, who was sitting in the press box looking at emails on his phone, as rain fell on the playing field.

Morris played 18 years in the Big Leagues, mainly with the Detroit Tigers. The St. Paul native signed with the Twins in 1991, and was named the World Series MVP that year, after he won two games against Atlanta. In the legendary seventh game of the series, Morris pitched a 10-inning shutout; and Gene Larkin drove in the winning run for the Twins in the bottom of the tenth.

Now a color analyst for Twins radio and TV broadcasts, Morris comments that Breslow, who pitched an inning or so the previous night, in a losing effort against the Rockies, “has a really good breaking ball, and if that’s an indication of the adjustment he’s making with dropping his arm slot down a little bit, the future still is bright for him. He did a great job last night. He’s going to be put in there in situations a lot, because, number one, he’s left-handed; number two, he’s a veteran that knows the situation and what he’s supposed to do. He’s never going to get intimidated by anything because he’s been there before.”

Delving deeper into the question of pitchers making adjustments to increase their effectiveness, Morris responds, “I think what happens when you age is, you’ve got to be creative and find ways to still get guys out.”

In Breslow’s case, Morris adds, “Where he was before, his ball started getting a little flat, staying in the zone too much. It wasn’t working because he doesn’t have the velocity anymore…. When you lose velocity, you’ve got to figure out something. All of sudden he’s finding a good release point for that breaking ball that’s really been probably more effective than his breaking ball before.”

For his part, the personable athlete says that he’s feeling good early in the season.

“I’m trying not to get too bogged down in where we are right now — it’s the middle of May,” he says. “I’m focusing on where I am in this process of reinventing myself, and just working on getting the mechanics of the delivery consistent and learning how I’m going to pitch with the new repertoire.”

As mentioned, Breslow played last September with the Israeli team in the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic.

“It was a unique experience,” he remarks. “It brought me a newfound appreciation for the ability of baseball to bring people together.” The Israeli team also created “some excitement among the Jewish community.”

Breslow decided to join the Twins in spring training, and had to forego pitching with the self-proclaimed “Jew Crew” in South Korea. The Israel team enjoyed an unexpectedly good run in the World Baseball Classic, finally losing in the second round to Japan, 8-3, in the Tokyo Dome.

And upending a reporter’s assumption, Breslow’s stint with the Israeli team took place in Brooklyn. He’s never been to Israel, but he’s looking forward to a visit when his twin boys, now two years old, are a little older and can appreciate the experience. A Connecticut native, Breslow, when he not on the road, lives with his wife and their kids in suburban Boston and in Florida.

The ballplayer also continues his involvement with the Strike 3 Foundation, a charity dedicated to raising awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research, which he founded in 2008.

Breslow’s older sister, Lesley, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 14; Breslow was 12 at the time. That traumatic period led him to an academic path leading to medical research. He later parlayed his celebrity as a baseball player to launch the Strike 3 Foundation.

Asked about his future in the top tier of professional baseball, Breslow replies, “I’m going to play for as long as I can, as long as someone wants to give me a uniform.”

He adds that, when he wakes up each day in the off-season, his family comes first; then there is the preparation for the next baseball season — going to the gym, running and throwing. If other things should become more important than that regime, “then it’s probably time to step away.”

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For information on the Strike 3 Foundation, go to: strike3foundation.org.

The Twins next home game is June 12 against the Seattle Mariners.

(American Jewish World, 6.2.17)

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