Even on an off day, Crawford shows his mettle

After rocky first, righty settles in to throw career-high 101 pitches in 6 innings

May 14th, 2024

BOSTON -- For the first time this season, has an ERA north of 2.00.

It’s 2.24, to be specific, which is tied with teammate Tanner Houck for ninth best in the Majors. It’s a noteworthy jump from Crawford’s 1.75 ERA going into Monday night’s opener against the Rays, but also an indicator of the jump this Red Sox staff has made this season.

After an uncharacteristic first inning to open a four-game set against the Rays at Fenway Park, Crawford settled in and turned in a solid six-inning start in Boston’s 5-3 loss.

“Struggled the first inning,” manager Alex Cora said. “But those are the outings last year that game was 4 2/3 [innings], six runs, seven runs and put us in a bad spot for the rest of the series. And after [the first], he found it and he gave us six. Think we threw the ball OK; he gave us a chance to win the game.”

Facing eight batters in the first frame, Crawford got behind in the count against all but two. After a leadoff single to Yandy Díaz, the right-hander retired the next two before allowing a walk, a triple and back-to-back singles to quickly put the Red Sox in a 3-0 hole.

Crawford needed 35 pitches to get out of the inning, then limited the Rays’ damage to just a double in the second on 11 pitches. He finished the day with a career-high 101 pitches (70 strikes).

“The first inning I think I struggled with the command a bit, obviously,” Crawford said. “The two-out walk was kind of the icing on the cake as far as getting myself in trouble. I felt like they were kind of taking my spin away from me on the outside half of the plate. Kind of leaning out there, shooting stuff the other way.”

Crawford’s outing is just the latest example of how much better a position the Red Sox’s staff is in to start this year compared to last. At this point last year, Crawford was a reliever who had made three spot starts and registered five or more innings just twice. On Monday, he became one of 10 pitchers in the Majors to pitch at least six innings in five straight starts.

After moving to the rotation full-time last June 3, Crawford went six innings just five times in his ensuing 21 starts. He finished his 2023 campaign with one of his best: a six-inning start in which he allowed just one hit to the American League East-winning Orioles. At the time, the Red Sox were looking for the reliever-turned-starter to work deeper into games. That last start left a good impression, and the 28-year-old came into Spring Training motivated to prove himself as a reliable rotation arm.

A month and a half into the season and he’s looking to be just that.

“Obviously last year, there were a lot of five-inning outings,” Crawford said. “And I want to be a starting pitcher in this league, and starting pitchers need to go six and they need to be relied on every five days. So that was one of my focuses coming into this season. Try to eat up more innings and stay as healthy as I can and throw the ball every five days.”

For as good as Crawford has been, the Red Sox have won just three of his starts this season. Boston’s recent trend of struggling to produce with runners on base continued in his latest outing, as the offense went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left five on vs. the Rays.

All of Boston’s offense came via Tyler O’Neill, who afforded Crawford the luxury of a “do-over” when he walked back out to the mound in the second after the DH hit his team-leading 10th homer in the home half of the first. The three-run blast gave Crawford a clean slate, and it marked just the second home run O’Neill has hit with runners on this season.

“Obviously, [O'Neill] with the big swing there, that was huge,” Crawford said. “But in my eyes it’s like it’s a new game. Try to forget about the first inning, like it never happened. Obviously it happened, but my mentality kind of going out there for the second [was like], ‘Hey, clean slate. The boys kind of bailed me out there.’ And I just try to go at it like it’s a new game.”