Kutter Crawford had been in line to make his regularly scheduled start for Triple-A Worcester on Friday while the team was in Rochester, N.Y.
Rather than have him pitch, though, the Red Sox scratched Crawford from his start with Worcester so that he could join the big-league club in Boston in the event that they would need a starter while navigating through a COVID-19 outbreak.
The 25-year-old was to fly from Rochester to Boston on Friday night, but that required a layover in Charlotte. His connecting flight was scheduled to depart from Charlotte Douglas International Airport and head towards Logan International Airport at around 10:30 p.m. eastern time. It did not leave until the wee hours of Saturday morning.
“My connecting flight in Charlotte was supposed to leave at 10:30 (p.m.) and it didn’t leave until 1:45, 2 o’clock in the morning,” Crawford said earlier Sunday evening.
Crawford did not arrive in Boston until around 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning. At that time, he was told by the Red Sox to remain on standby without being given a specific date as to when his name could be called.
Later that night, the Sox found out that Nick Pivetta, who was slated to start Sunday’s series finale against the Indians, was going to need to be placed on the COVID-19 related injured list, meaning a spot in their starting rotation had just opened up.
“I got in at 4:30 yesterday morning,” Crawford said. “Kind of uncertain what the plan was with all the COVID stuff. I was told to be on standby, and after [Saturday night’s] game I was notified that I’d be starting today.”
Able to have some friends and family in attendance at Fenway Park on Sunday, Crawford’s major-league debut did not go according to plan, as the right-hander allowed five runs — all of which were earned — on five hits, two walks, and two strikeouts over two-plus innings of work and took the loss in an 11-5 defeat at the hands of the Indians.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t go as I wanted it to,” he said in regards to his first big-league start. “But, we live and we learn and we’re going to make adjustments to keep moving forward.”
While the box score may suggest otherwise, there were positive developments from Crawford’s outing. Of the 57 pitches he threw, 40 — or 70% of them — went for strikes.
He also induced nine total swings-and-misses while topping out at 96 mph with his four-seam fastball, a pitch he threw 26 times.
Crawford’s 57th and final pitch was ball four to Bobby Bradley, putting a runner on first base with no outs in the third inning of a 4-0 game and subsequently prompting Red Sox manager Alex Cora to hand things over to his bullpen.
Before officially taking the ball out of Crawford’s hands, though, Cora took the time to offer the rookie right-hander some “words of encouragement” as his first start in the majors came to an end.
“I wanted him to take a deep breath and enjoy the situation,” Cora said. “It’s Fenway Park on a Sunday afternoon. There’s nothing better than that. There’s only one MLB debut. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a good one or you struggle. It’s something you still dream about as a kid. And I wanted him to take a deep breath, look around, see the whole thing — because he probably didn’t do that before the game or during the game.”
Cora understands that Crawford himself may be disappointed with his own performance on the mound, but given the circumstances, he should still hold his head high.
“Obviously there were a lot of two-out hits but he filled up the strike zone with good stuff,” said Cora. “It’s not easy to come into a situation like this and maneuver a big-league lineup.”
Crawford, who was selected by the Red Sox in the 16th round of the 2017 amateur draft, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 22 prospect in Boston’s farm system.
Before Sunday, the 6-foot-1, 209 pound hurler had made just six appearances (five starts) above the Double-A level after earning a promotion to Worcester earlier this simmer.
On short notice, and in his first in-game action since August 27, Crawford did not let the moment get to him, as he felt as though he was able to keep his emotions in check while working through the obvious nerves and anxieties that come with a major-league debut.
“I just didn’t execute some pitches when I needed to,” Crawford said. “I felt like I had pretty good control of my emotions. I didn’t feel like I got out of hand with some unfortunate hits and obviously giving up that home run to [Franmil] Reyes. But I felt like I had pretty good control of everything, I just didn’t execute pitches like I needed to, and they got me.”
Results aside, Cora seemed please with what he saw from Crawford on Sunday, as he praised the righty not only for his pitch arsenal, but for his demeanor as well.
“I can see it,” Cora said. “Stuff-wise, he’s really good. Like I told him on the mound, he’s a big-leaguer.”
As of now, it’s not particularly clear when Crawford will pitch again, though it seems likely that he would be returned to the WooSox once Pivetta can be activated from the COVID IL.
That being said Crawford can become eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time this winter, so the Red Sox would need to permanently add the righty to their 40-man roster by the November 20 deadline in order to protect him from that, thus ensuring he remains in the organization moving forward.
“With time I know he will contribute,” Cora said of Crawford. “He’ll be part of this.”
(Picture of Kutter Crawford: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)