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Peter Abraham | On baseball

With each outing, Kutter Crawford makes a strong case to remain in the Red Sox starting rotation

Red Sox rookie righthander Kutter Crawford held the top four hitters in the Yankees order — D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Josh Donaldson — to a combined 1 for 8 with two walks and three strikeouts.Kathryn Riley/Getty

The Red Sox continue to talk bravely about making a run for a playoff spot. That would involve passing four teams, which isn’t impossible but certainly hard to imagine given their pitching.

A better goal would be to finish .500 and even that may be asking a lot.

Realistically, the remaining 47 games are about determining which players on the roster can be counted on for next season, particularly as candidates for the rotation.

Kutter Crawford continued to build a good case on Saturday night, holding the Yankees to two runs on two hits over six innings in a game the Sox lost, 3-2. On a night the Sox needed their starter to eat innings and protect a worn-out bullpen, the 26-year-old rookie righthander matched his season high with 94 pitches and left the mound with the game tied against a team with the best offense in the American League.

“The kid, he understands. He watches the game and he makes adjustments,” said manager Alex Cora, who noted that Crawford made some changes to his game plan after watching Nate Eovaldi’s quality start against the Yankees on Friday night.

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“I like the way he attacked the opposition. He was tremendous for us.”

Then there’s this: Crawford has faced the Yankees four times this season, twice as a starter, and allowed three earned runs over 13 innings. That’s meaningful when contemplating the future. Give me a pitcher who can stand up to the Yankees.

Crawford is now sixth on the team with 62⅔ innings this season, a good sample size for a rookie. Counting a game when the Sox used an opener, he has essentially been in the rotation since July 4.

Crawford has a 3.20 ERA over eight games in that stretch and pitched at least five innings each time. Opponents have hit .211 and struck out 41 times over 45 innings. The Sox are 4-4 in those games.

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Crawford did his job again on Saturday but came away annoyed that he lost a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning when Isiah Kiner-Falefa belted a two-run homer over the Monster.

Crawford left a 1-and-1 cutter over the plate and Kiner-Falefa hit his first home of the season. It took him 349 at-bats to connect.

“I’ve got a little bad taste in my mouth after the home run,” Crawford said. “Just a poorly executed pitch. I had a problem all night trying to get that cutter down and inside to the righties.”

The top four hitters in the Yankees order — D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Josh Donaldson — were 1 for 8 with two walks and three strikeouts.

That’s what allowed Crawford to go six innings and keep Cora from using some of the less-trustworthy members of the bullpen.

“Every time I take the ball I try to go as deep in the game as possible and give my team the best opportunity to win,” Crawford said.

As for his success against the Yankees, Crawford worked around the question.

“I just like competing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which team. As long as I’m on the mound, I like to compete.”

That’s a diplomatic answer. But on a night when Fenway Park had another sellout crowd, pitching well against the Yankees has to mean something.

Crawford nodded his head.

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“It’s a little sweeter,” he acknowledged.

With Nate Eovaldi, Rich Hill, and Michael Wacha all free agents after the season, Nick Pivetta could be on the only rotation regular coming back.

Counting on Chris Sale is a dangerous strategy. Another rookie, Josh Winckowski, is 5-5 with a 4.69 ERA. Brayan Bello had an 8.47 ERA before he landed on the injured list.

The Sox should do the smart thing and return Garrett Whitlock to the rotation to take advantage of his vast abilities, but that’s not certain. They also can retain James Paxton, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. But he’ll be 34 with only a handful of innings pitched over three seasons.

The opportunity is there for Crawford to grab. He’s lined up to start seven or eight more games this season to keep making his case.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.