Red Sox option Kutter Crawford to Triple-A in time for Garrett Whitlock's debut

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

Garrett Whitlock will make his season debut for the Boston Red Sox tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays. The right-hander opened the season on the injured list in order to give him extra time to prepare after recovering from offseason hip surgery. Whitlock will be activated on the first day that he's eligible and jump right into the rotation.

To make room on the active roster, the Red Sox are optioning Kutter Crawford to Triple-A Worcester, per MassLive's Chris Cotillo.

The Red Sox kept struggling relievers on the roster instead of Kutter Crawford

The results were mixed through Crawford's two starts this season. He was shelled for seven earned runs while giving up three homers in a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates but settled down by holding the Detroit Tigers to one run over five innings in his next start.

A solid spring earned Crawford a spot in Boston's injury-depleted rotation to begin the season but it wasn't meant to last. Whitlock's return would soon bump someone from the rotation and Crawford was always the most likely candidate. Even if he survived the first pitching roster move, Brayan Bello isn't far behind in his own recovery from injury and could join the rotation later this month.

Crawford wasn't meant to hold on to his rotation spot for long but it was a bit surprising that he lost his roster spot entirely instead of moving to the bullpen to replace one of the struggling relievers.

Kaleb Ort has tallied six strikeouts without a walk over six innings this season but he's also been charged with four earned runs for an ugly 6.00 ERA. He has allowed a pair of runs in two of his appearances, both losses for the Red Sox. That includes an Opening Day loss to the Baltimore Orioles that ended up being a one-run game. While the loss was pinned on starter Corey Kluber, Ort's poor performance put the game just enough out of reach that Boston's late rally came up short.

The team's fascination with Ryan Brasier remains on of the most perplexing questions for Red Sox fans. This guy has more lives than a cat. While he's shown flashes of being a useful bullpen arm in the past, his career has been marred by inconsistency. Even when Brasier is throwing the ball well, we never feel comfortable when he's on the mound. Brasier is off to a miserable start, allowing five earned runs and four walks over five innings.

The Red Sox bullpen has been a surprising strength so far this season. Remove Ort and Brasier from the equation and Red Sox relievers have combined to allow six earned runs over 32 2/3 innings for a dazzling 1.65 ERA. Most would assume that Boston would be eager to replace the weak links in the bullpen, so why do they remain on the roster at Crawford's expense?

While being sent back to Triple-A appears to be a demotion, it's actually a sign of Crawford's value to the organization. The Red Sox want to keep Crawford stretched out as a starter in case the need arises for a spot starter. It's wise to be prepared with rotation depth considering the lingering questions regarding the health of most of Boston's starters.

Josh Winckowski, who made 14 starts for the Red Sox last season, is thriving in his new role as a long reliever. With Boston intent on giving Whitlock an opportunity to be a starter, Winckowski could take his place as the versatile weapon out of the bullpen. The Red Sox have some young prospects in Triple-A but none of them are quite ready to make the leap into Boston's rotation.

If another starter were to go down with an injury, Crawford would be the next man up. Burying him at the bottom of the bullpen as an infrequently utilized reliever wouldn't keep Crawford sharp, so sending him down to start in Triple-A keeps him on track for spot starts if the need arises.

As much as we bemoan the presence of Brasier or question what Ort has ever done to deserve a roster spot, there's little evidence to suggest Crawford would be an improvement in the bullpen. In nine career relief appearances, Crawford owns a 5.63 ERA in 16 innings.

While a large contingency of Red Sox fans are pleading with the team to give up on Brasier, he can't be shipped to Worcester since he doesn't have minor league options. There's no reason to designate him for assignment unless a 40-man roster move requires cutting someone to clear a spot. As bad as Brasier can be at times, he's an upgrade over some of the options in Triple-A that Boston would be forced to rely on if injuries strike. Maintaining depth is important.

That means the decision boiled down to Crawford and Ort, who can be optioned to the minors. Keeping Crawford stretched out as a starter made it an easy choice.

Boston's rotation will get crowded soon with Bello's return on the horizon and James Paxton working his way back. Paxton's role is a bit unclear considering injuries have limited him to six starts over the last three years. Bello is a lock to join the rotation as soon as he's ready, which could bump Tanner Houck to the bullpen.

The roster moves that the Red Sox make to activate those pitchers are contingent upon who remains healthy in the meantime. If this pitching staff ever gets remotely to full strength, there won't be room for the struggling Ort or Brasier. They survive this round of roster moves but neither should get too comfortable.