KANSAS CITY, Mo. — James Paxton, Nick Pivetta, and Chris Sale are the only experienced starters the Red Sox have under control for next season. That makes the remainder of this season a chance for rookies Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford, and Josh Winckowski to further prove their worth.
Crawford, who is scheduled to face the Royals on Sunday afternoon, is at the head of the pack. He has a 3.11 earned run average over seven starts, with opponents posting a .657 OPS. His five-pitch mix has played against major league hitters.
“His stuff has been really good and the mix has been outstanding,” manager Alex Cora said before Saturday’s 5-4 loss. “It seems like every outing is something different than the last one.”
Crawford’s backdoor cutter has proven effective against lefthanded hitters, and he’s had success with his elevated fastball. His fastball is a tick under 95 miles per hour and works well in concert with his other pitches.
“I feel like I have different weapons,” said Crawford, who made five starts in the Dominican winter league specifically to work on his secondary pitches. “The more starts I’ve made, the better it has gotten.”
Crawford held the Astros to one run over six innings at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. He struck out six with one walk.
“He impressed me,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said after the game.
The work of the rookie starters has been a highlight for the Sox. They wouldn’t be in the hunt for a playoff spot without them.
“These kids, they’ve done an amazing job. Obviously, it’s not easy at this level. Teams are going to make adjustments,” Cora said. “It’s not the final product. They’re still learning, but they’re learning at the highest level. Just keep helping them out.”
The heat is on
There was a heat advisory in the Kansas City area on Saturday and the Sox limited their pregame activities on the field at the advice of their medical staff. It was 95 degrees at first pitch.
“It’s something we always take into consideration,” Cora said. “You’ve got to be smart and be in constant communication with the players. The good thing is we have Monday off, which is huge for us.”
With a day game Sunday and expected temperatures again in the 90s, Rafael Devers — who went 0 for 4 Saturday and is 3 for 19 (.158) on the road trip — could get a day off.
Sox third base coach Carlos Febles played for the Royals from 1998–2003. He said being able to play well in the oppressive heat was an advantage for Kansas City.
“It’s hard. But you do get used to it,” he said. “We had a turf infield in Double A Wichita. Now that was hot.”
One more for Michael Wacha
Michael Wacha set down 14 of the 15 hitters he faced pitching for Triple A Worcester on Thursday and threw 63 pitches. The Sox want the righthander to make one more injury rehabilitation start, and that will be Tuesday at Double A Portland against Richmond.
It’s Jarren Duran bobblehead night, so Wacha gets an added bonus.
“The goal is for one more rehab start, then join us at the end of the week,” Cora said.
Wacha is 6-1 with a 2.69 ERA over 13 MLB starts. He has been out since June 29 with a sore shoulder.
Cora spoke to second baseman Trevor Story and reported he “is in a good place” recovering from a small fracture in his right wrist. The hope is Story can start swinging during the coming homestand.
Lefthander Josh Taylor, out all season with a back injury, threw in the bullpen at Fenway South on Saturday. Lefthander Matt Strahm is back to playing as he returns from being hit on the left wrist by a line drive on July 12.
Outfielder Rob Refsynder, on the injured list with a right knee sprain, did some sprints before the game.
Kiké Hernández, who is moving closer to a rehab assignment, will have access to Fenway Park on Sunday with no concert on the schedule. He has recovered from a hip strain and is back to taking batting practice.
Sale will likely be at the ballpark, too. He’s back to playing catch as his broken left pinkie finger mends.
Sawamura’s split personality
Hirokazu Sawamura has allowed one earned run over 19 innings on the road this season and struck out 17 with only seven walks. Opponents have hit .141. At Fenway Park, he has given up 15 earned runs over 24⅓ innings and walked 13 with 17 strikeouts. Opponents have hit .274. “If you know a reason, please tell me,” Sawamura said via translator Yutaro Yamaguchi. “But I really don’t care about those kind of stats” . . . Eric Hosmer was out of the lineup Saturday. Cora wanted to give Bobby Dalbec a start with Kansas City starting lefthander Daniel Lynch, and Dalbec cracked a fourth-inning home run . . . Xander Bogaerts was 4 for 5 in Friday’s 7-4 victory. It was his 20th career game with four hits. He’s yet to have a five-hit game. Rafael Devers is the last Sox player with a five-hit game (Aug. 13, 2019, when he had six against Cleveland). He’s done it twice, as did Andrew Benintendi. “I’m not as good as those guys,” Bogaerts said, as Devers listened in. “My max is four hits. Only a hitter like Raffy or Benny can get five.”