CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Red Sox staying patient with struggling Crawford

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- He is the game's Most Expensive No. 7 Hitter, and it's not even close.

"I can't remember going through a stretch like this," Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford says. "I think this is the worst."

Seven years, $142 million and seventh in the lineup.

What are the Red Sox, joking?

"I don't see him hitting seventh all year," manager Terry Francona says. "He's too good a hitter."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona says he doesn't see Crawford hitting seventh all season long. (AP)  
Red Sox manager Terry Francona says he doesn't see Crawford hitting seventh all season long. (AP)  
It didn't start out this way.

Opening day in Texas, Boston's shiny new free agent acquisition hit third. And struck out three times in four at-bats.

Next day, he hit third ... and took another oh-fer, with one more whiff.

The Red Sox tried him second in the lineup (.167, .231 on-base percentage). They slotted him leadoff (.094, .121 OBP)

This week, he dropped more precipitously than your local congressman's approval ratings.

"It's different," says Crawford, who was hitting .149 with a .186 OBP and 11 whiffs in 70 plate appearances as the Sox kicked off a four-game set here Thursday night. "But until I get going, it's the spot for me. And I've just gotta go with it."

Do you know who some of the other hitters are batting seventh this week in the American League? Oakland's Landon Powell. Minnesota's Luke Hughes. Seattle's Carlos Peguero. The Angels' Peter Bourjos. Cleveland's Michael Brantley. Kansas City's Kila Ka'aihue.

Each of those players is making somewhere around the major-league minimum $414,000 this season.

Crawford is at $14 million for 2011.

"Right now the best advice is no advice," Crawford says of his Nightmare on Lansdowne Street start. "At this point, everybody seems to be a hitting coach. At this point, I'm just shutting everybody out."

And spending extra time in the batting cage, as he did Thursday afternoon.

"When you're scuffling, hitting leadoff is pretty glaring," Francona says. "We're just trying to let him relax a little. He's going to get real hot, and when he does, he's certainly going to be on top of the order."

There are folks in the Tampa Bay organization who wondered how Crawford would adapt to the bright lights of Boston. Not in a nasty, told-you-so way. For the most part, Crawford retains favorite-son status with the Rays, the only organization he had ever known. It's just that, they know him well enough to understand that criticism eats at him, and that he sometimes wants to please so badly that it can be a detriment.

"Of course he's bothered," Sox designated hitter David Ortiz says. "But he swung the bat better in Oakland."

Actually, says a scout who was there for this week's Sox-A's series, Crawford's swing was the same and his strike-zone discipline was lacking -- another sign of a guy pressing. He did, though, stroke two singles in seven plate appearances, which constitutes a major step forward.

In some ways, Crawford's agonizing start mirrors that of Boston's big free agent addition a year ago. John Lackey was hammered by Tampa Bay for eight earned runs and nine hits in just 3 1/3 innings in his third Sox start in 2010, was hit hard in May and had a 4.78 ERA at the All-Star break. Opponents were batting .298 against him with a .366 on-base percentage.

A year later, though, he is coming off of an excellent outing in which the scout in Oakland says he had a "plus fastball, not an average fastball", Lackey, 32, is not the same dominant pitcher he once was. After surrendering 15 runs in his first two outings this season, Boston skipped Lackey's next start when Francona re-arranged the rotation following a rainout.

Though he did work 214 innings last summer, barely more than a year in, Lackey's five-year, $82.5 million contract looks like it could have some seriously diminishing returns.

At 29 and a guy who, when on, can beat you with his bat or his legs, Crawford is in a vastly different territory. Yet it sure wouldn't kill Boston to see one of its free agents start quickly one of these years.

In Anaheim, Crawford barely pauses to consider what might have been. Yes, he looks around Angel Stadium upon arrival and fleetingly thinks about how hard the Angels romanced him over the winter. But ...

"I got enough to deal with right now to be worrying about where I could have ended up," he says. "The start in general, such a bad start, it's definitely a surprise. By the end of the year, we'll see what I'm made of."

Meantime, the Red Sox wait.

"He's a hard worker," Francona says. "He's a good kid. I think we appreciate the way he's going about this. The results haven't totally been there yet. We know that, and so does he. But he's working hard. It's going to be OK.

"Sometimes for with guys with track records, [success comes] in bunches. They get to their level. Sometimes it's in the damndest way. But they get to their level."

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