BOSTON — Six days after Kutter Crawford snuffed out the Mariners on a single hit in five scoreless innings, the right-hander has learned just how fine a line there is between success and struggle at the top level.
Saturday night at Fenway Park, facing a tough Cardinals lineup, Crawford was on the hook for six hits (including two towering homers) over four innings in an 11-2 loss to the Red Sox.
In what turned out to be a two-start stint in the big leagues as Garrett Whitlock and Nathan Eovaldi battle injuries, Crawford was told after the tough outing that he was opted for Triple-A Worcester.
“There’s work to do, and we’re going to get it done,” said Crawford, Boston’s No. 24 prospect as assessed by MLB Pipeline.
What has Crawford learned from the extremes of the last two starts?
“That I have to master my five shots,” Crawford said. “I have to get my splitter in the zone more often to keep hitters honest with the ball moving the other way from whatever is going. They are cutters, sliders and just moving the fastball in and out and not just staying to one side of the plate.
A roster as strong as the Cardinals will jump on a young pitcher who doesn’t command, and they did.
Crawford saw this in real time. After striking out the first two batters in the first inning, Crawford gave up a single to Paul Goldschmidt. Next was Nolan Arenado, who hammered a 3-2 cutter that was mid-mid on the green monster.
In the fourth, Nolan Gorman unloaded on a substitution that caught too much plate and landed him a thrown Statcast 440 feet over the wall at center.
“He showed some flashes of good things. The quadruple played today,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “The cutter was OK. The breaking bullet was not there. So it’s a good composition. It seems they were hunting certain locations. It looked like the quad had given them a hard time. Everything else, they were on it.
Seattle felt like a long time ago when Crawford walked out of Saturday’s game.
“I needed to move my fastball a bit more to keep the hitters honest,” Crawford said. “I think the big issue wasn’t being able to command the secondary pitches as well as I did in Seattle.”
Cora: ‘Robles needs to be ‘more aggressive’
Despite Crawford’s tough night, the Red Sox were right in the game, losing just 4-2 when he left.
But the bullpen was roughed up for six runs in a deciding high of the sixth.
Hansel Robles took the brunt of the damage, giving up four runs on two hits and two walks while recording just one out.
Cora came out to check on Robles with a team coach at some point during the inning.
“He’s fine. He kept moving his arm,” Cora said. “I don’t know if you noticed it, but anyway, obviously he was coming back from [back spasms] 10 days ago. We just wanted to make sure everything was okay, and he said [it was].”
A big factor for the Red Sox last season, Robles hasn’t been as consistent this year.
“Hansel, intermittently,” Cora said. “We have to get him to be more aggressive in the area. Throughout the season, walks have been a factor. Last year it didn’t near the end, from mid-August to September. Obviously the speed isn’t 97.98 like last year, but it’s still good enough to attack hitters.
Davis keeps his pen
The only positive point of Saturday’s defeat?
Southpaw Austin Davis helped preserve the bullpen for Sunday’s rubber game against the Cardinals when he threw a career-high 56 pitches and tied a career-high three innings. Davis pitched seventh through ninth, preventing Cora from having to bring in a position player.
The performance came on the heels of Davis getting a rough ride Friday when he took a 6-1 lead and forced Cora closer to Tanner Houck.
“He’s one of those who, it’s a fine line, trying to get to 27 out [from pitchers] or get the bottom three with a positional player,” Cora said. “But you have to give him credit. He understands the game, and he didn’t feel good about what happened yesterday, not finishing the game, and he just wanted to finish. I’m glad he did and saved a few arms in the bullpen.