FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Alex Cora made official one of the feel-good stories of Spring Training for his team: Righty Kutter Crawford made the club.
A starter coming through the Minors, Boston’s No. 25 prospect, as rated by MLB Pipeline, was not considered to be in the mix for a bullpen spot when camp opened.
But the 26-year-old Crawford, a 16th-round pick out of Florida Gulf Coast University in the 2017 Draft, earned his spot on the big club with an uptick in velocity pitching in a new role.
“He worked hard,” said Cora. “You know, he earned it. Coming into the situation, probably early in camp, he had no luck probably. I don’t want to say it that way, but it was a guy where we looked at him but [thought] it was probably better off [to] go to Triple-A and all that. But he kept pushing and pushing and the more we talked about our rotation and what we’re trying to accomplish early on in the season and throughout the season, he made a lot of sense.”
The idea Cora has for Crawford is for him to pitch multi-inning stints, something that will be valuable early in the season given the shortened Spring Training that the Boston starters had to ramp up.
“Whatever my role is, my job is to throw strikes whenever I get handed the ball,” said Crawford. “I’m just looking forward to any opportunity I get to pitch in the big leagues.”
Not only did Crawford surprise the Red Sox, but he even surprised himself a bit.
“I didn’t expect to see the velo jump that I’ve thrown with,” Crawford said. “I was kind of surprised at my first outing. I always expect to succeed when I get handed the ball. I have high confidence in everything I do. You don’t make it this far not being confident in your ability. Having the success I’ve had, it’s cool.”
If Crawford can duplicate the success he’s had in Spring Training once the season starts, perhaps he can be this season’s Garrett Whitlock, who went from little-known Rule 5 Draft pick to Boston’s best reliever in 2021.
“With this one, I know everybody’s proud. Player development is proud,” said Cora. “The work that everybody put in and this kid is breaking camp with us, it’s one of those accomplishments that the organization feels good about.”
When the Red Sox had their COVID-19 outbreak last September, Crawford was called up with almost no notice to replace Nick Pivetta for a spot start against Cleveland. It didn’t go well, as he gave up five hits and five runs over two-plus innings. Still, Cora was impressed by the way Crawford handled a tough situation.
“I still remember when I took him out that day,” said Cora. “I said, ‘You’re a big leaguer. You’re gonna help us.’ Here’s the time he’s gonna help us. I do believe he’s going to be good for us. He adds a different mix. The split hopefully will play. We’re gonna push him to use it.”
Hill opens in five-hole
Cora also acknowledged on Monday that 42-year-old veteran Rich Hill will open the season as the No. 5 starter.
However, Whitlock, who got stretched out in Spring Training to battle with Hill for that spot, will also get his share of innings. There’s also a chance Whitlock and Hill could flip-flop roles at times, though Cora doesn’t want to elaborate on that at this point.
“We can be creative in a sense. Both of them, they’re going to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Cora said. “Rich is gonna start that game Tuesday [April 12] in Detroit, that one o’clock game. He’s starting that one. Whit is going to be in the bullpen for Opening Day and he’ll be in the bullpen that game [Hill starts].”
In games that Whitlock piggybacks Hill, it will make for an interesting contrast for opposing hitters. Hill has a curveball in the low to mid 60s and a fastball that tops out at 88-89 at this stage. Whitlock throws gas.
“That’s something we’ve been talking about since we signed Rich. We can pair them together,” said Cora. “It’s something that we talked about with Tanner [Houck] and Chris [Sale] before Chris got hurt.”