Kutter Crawford saved the Boston Red Sox bullpen

Pittsburgh Pirates v Boston Red Sox
Pittsburgh Pirates v Boston Red Sox / Paul Rutherford/GettyImages

The Boston Red Sox bullpen was in for a long day on a rainy Marathon Monday until Kutter Crawford came to the rescue.

Brayan Bello looked every bit the part of a first-year starter making his season debut following a brief stint on the injured list. After striking out the leadoff hitter to begin the game, Bello allowed five consecutive batters to reach, including a massive three-run homer by old friend Hunter Renfroe.

The shaky start by Bello put the Red Sox in an early 5-0 hole. Consecutive singles to lead off the third inning put the right-hander in another jam but he battled back with a pair of strikeouts. Then the skies opened up over Fenway Park. Bello wasn't likely to last much longer anyway, but a lengthy rain delay ensured an early hook.

The Red Sox leaned on Kutter Crawford

When the skies cleared enough for play to resume, Crawford stormed out of the bullpen to clean up the mess Boston's starter had left on the bases. Crawford retired rookie Zach Neto on a fly out to right field to strand a pair of Angels runners but his day was just getting started.

Crawford remained on the mound to finish the game, logging 6 1/3 scoreless innings. He allowed only one hit without a walk and struck out five. Crawford efficiently carved up an Angels lineup that had done plenty of damage early in the game. His 72 pitches equaled the total thrown by Bello in his 2 2/3 innings of work.

The Red Sox still fell short in a 5-4 loss to wrap up the four-game series but Crawford's remarkable performance stopped the bleeding to keep his team in the game and give the offense a chance to rally.

He couldn't quite save the Red Sox from taking the loss but Crawford did save their overtaxed bullpen. Boston enters the day with 72 1/3 innings thrown by relievers, tied with the Oakland A's for the most in the majors, per FanGraphs. The Red Sox were so desperate to give their top relievers a breather that they were forced to rely on the struggling Kaleb Ort and Ryan Brasier to finish the final two innings of Sunday's win. Boston doesn't have another scheduled off day until April 27, so there aren't many opportunities to rest a bullpen that has been leaned on heavily while the rotation struggles to consistently provide at least five innings.

Crawford began the season in the rotation while Bello and Garrett Whitlock were given additional time to ramp up after recovering from injuries. The Red Sox optioned Crawford to Triple-A last week in order to open a roster spot to activate Whitlock but the demotion wouldn't last long. The intention was to send Crawford to Worcester in order to keep him stretched out as a starter but an elbow injury to reliever Zack Kelly created an urgent need in the bullpen. Crawford was quickly returned to the big leagues and has since allowed only one earned run over 9 1/3 innings of relief.

Aside from a seven-run shellacking against the Pittsburgh Pirates in his first start of the season, Crawford has been excellent this year. While his ERA remains inflated by one poor outing, a deeper dive shows that Crawford has made a leap from the fringe major league pitcher who struggled to the tune of a 5.47 ERA last season.

Crawford has shown better command of all five of his pitches. He hasn't walked a batter since his season debut against Pittsburgh, resulting in a career-best 2.7 BB% that rates in the 92 percentile, per Baseball Savant. He has also increased his strikeout rate to a career-high 25.7 K%.

Opponents hammered the ball against Crawford last year but he's seen drastic improvements in his StatCast data so far this season, rating in the 81st percentile in Hard Hit% and Average Exit Velocity.

The sample size remains small so Crawford still has much to prove but he appears to be more poised on the mound with greater control over his arsenal of pitches.

Crawford is showing he can be an asset to the Red Sox as a long reliever, a role that will prove vital to this team's success if their starters can't go deep into games. The intention of keeping him stretched out was reasonable at the time. The Red Sox have plenty of injury questions lingering over their rotation so having a spot starter waiting in the wings of Worcester was a wise strategy. Boston's rotation is getting healthier though. They are temporarily moving to a six-man rotation with Bello back in the mix and James Paxton's return appears to be on the horizon.

There's no immediate need for a spot starter in Boston's suddenly crowded rotation and Crawford deserves an opportunity to stick in the majors. He's clearly performed better than at least a couple of arms in Boston's bullpen and with injuries striking at the core of their relievers, they need Crawford to soak up some innings in relief.

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