Starting pitching, a strength for the Red Sox this season, has become a puzzle in recent days because of injuries.
Monday’s issue was the absence of Michael Wacha, who was scratched from his start against the Tampa Bay Rays because of a sore arm.
A year ago, the Sox wouldn’t have many good solutions beyond hoping they scored a bunch of runs.
But the methodical development of pitching depth in the organization has created palatable options. The Sox promoted righthander Kutter Crawford from Triple A Worcester and he helped deliver a 4-0 victory.
The sellout crowd of 36,473 at Fenway Park rewarded Crawford with a standing ovation when he left the game in the eighth inning after working 5 ⅓ innings and striking out eight.
“It’s kind of something you dream about, walking off the field and getting a standing ovation, especially at Fenway,” Crawford said. “It’s pretty special.”
The Sox used lefthander Austin Davis as an opener. Crawford (2-2) followed before John Schreiber got the final five outs for his third save.
The trio held the Rays to two hits and struck out 11.
“We feel comfortable doing this … because we feel, stuff-wise, these kids are really good,” manager Alex Cora said. “Little by little you can see them gaining confidence whenever they come up here.”
Crawford and fellow rookies Connor Seabold and Josh Winckowski have combined to pitch four or more innings nine times. The Sox are 6-3 in those games.
The key for Crawford on Monday was command of the strike zone. He threw 60 of 82 pitches for strikes, a robust 73 percent.
“He mixed all his pitches. It was impressive,” Cora said. “It was really good to see.”
Crawford’s only trouble was self-induced. With two outs in the third, he fielded a ball hit back to the mound by Yandy Diaz and made an errant throw to first.
Wander Franco followed with a single and Tampa Bay had runners on first and third. Crawford came back to strike out Ji-Man Choi on four pitches.
Crawford has made 11 appearances in the majors this season, facing as many as 20 batters and as few as one. That’s not atypical for a rookie bouncing back and forth from the minors.
“I’ve got a job to do when I’m called upon and that’s all I care about,” he said. “Whatever they need me to do.”
Crawford left the game with a runner on first and one out in the eighth. Schreiber sprinted out of the bullpen to the mound. He needed only 17 pitches to record five outs.
“First-pitch strikes are huge. I try and attack every guy the same,” said Schreiber, who has allowed two earned runs on 12 hits over 27 ⅓ innings. The Sox have won 15 of the last 16 games he has appeared in.
The Rays also used an opener, Jalen Beeks. The former Red Sox prospect pitched two scoreless innings. Josh Fleming retired the first five batters he faced before Trevor Story homered to center.
Story launched a sinker over the home bullpen into the first row of the bleachers. It was his 13th of the season and ended a string of 123 at-bats without a homer for the Sox that dated back to Friday.
Christian Arroyo, starting at shortstop in place of an injured Xander Bogaerts, led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a double to left.
With Arroyo on third and two outs, Rafael Devers grounded to second. Isaac Paredes booted the ball. Arroyo scored on what was charitably ruled a single.
Singles by Devers, J.D. Martinez, and Christian Vázquez loaded the bases in the eighth. Fleming had a play at the plate when Alex Verdugo tapped a ball back to the mound but the pitcher didn’t get his glove down.
The error made it 3-0. Franchy Cordero added an RBI single.
Monday was the first of 17 consecutive games against division foes.
“Big games for us,” Schreiber said. “Good to start it this way.”