Right-hander Kutter Crawford will begin the season in the Red Sox’s rotation, manager Alex Cora confirmed (link via Alex Speier of the Boston Globe). He’s expected to take the ball for the fourth game of the season, the opener of a series against the Pirates.
It’s not likely to be a long-term stint. Crawford steps in with Garrett Whitlock and Brayan Bello both opening the year on the 15-day injured list. Whitlock, in particular, is expected back midway through the season’s first month. Assuming each of Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta remain healthy by that point, Crawford could find himself in long relief or optioned back to Triple-A Worcester. Potential returns from Bello and James Paxton later on would push him further down the depth chart.
Crawford, 27 next month, started 12 of 21 outings for the Sox last season. He pitched to a 5.47 ERA in 77 1/3 innings overall, though his 23.1% strikeout percentage and 8.7% walk rate were both solid. He predictably missed more bats in relief than he did as a starter but threw more strikes when working from the rotation.
In other news out of Boston:
- Reliever Wyatt Mills has been shut down from throwing after experiencing elbow inflammation, Speier writes. Fortunately, the issue is believed to be muscular rather than structural. Mills still seems likely to open the season on the 15-day IL but there doesn’t appear to be concern about a long-term absence in spite of the ominous-sounding diagnosis. Boston acquired the righty from the Royals over the winter, sending minor league reliever Jacob Wallace back to Kansas City. Mills split the 2022 campaign between Seattle and K.C., throwing 29 1/3 frames of 4.60 ERA ball. He still has a minor league option year remaining and wasn’t a lock to crack the season-opening bullpen.
- Catcher Connor Wong was hampered by a left hamstring strain early in camp. While the issue initially seemed as if it could lead to a season-opening IL stint, Wong now looks on track to be ready for Opening Day. Cora told reporters yesterday the 26-year-old backstop was a “full go” at this point (relayed by Ian Browne of MLB.com). With a week left until the start of the regular season, he should be in position to open the year on the roster. Wong and Reese McGuire are the two backstops on the 40-man. The catching outlook is one area the Sox will have to sort out in the coming days, as Boston could lose minor league signee Jorge Alfaro to an upward mobility clause in his contract if they’re not willing to put him on the MLB club. Alfaro has been on a tear in Spring Training, collecting 11 hits (including two homers) in 21 at-bats.
- Like Alfaro, Raimel Tapia is a veteran in camp on a minor league deal. The lefty-hitting outfielder is battling for a depth role behind the presumptive starting outfield of Masataka Yoshida, Adam Duvall and Alex Verdugo. Righty-swinging Rob Refsnyder is a virtual lock to secure a bench role, as is a backup catcher. That’d leave two spots, one of which seems likely to go to an infielder. Tapia brings plus contact skills and speed, though he’s not a prototypical fourth outfielder considering he’s spent the bulk of his career in left field. Chad Jennings of the Athletic writes that Boston is increasingly open to using Tapia in center field, where he played a career-high 249 2/3 innings for Toronto last season. That would increase his chances of making the roster, particularly since his skillset would be complementary to that of Duvall. Tapia is 13-40 with two walks, six strikeouts and a pair of homers this spring.