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Crawford won’t stay down

Lineup shifts simply part of getting settled

By Nick Cafardo
April 24, 2011

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — When Carl Crawford has a performance like this, it makes you wonder, is this where the turnaround comes?

For the fourth time this season, but the first since April 11, Crawford had two hits, albeit one was off the shortstop’s glove and drove in a run in a 5-0 Red Sox win over the Angels last night.

Crawford’s poor start was everyone’s worst fear. There were so many obstacles he had to face: Going from a small-market team to a big-market team. From a place where he fit so well to a place where he fits somewhat awkwardly. From a left field where he had space to use his tremendous athleticism to a left field where he has to worry about angles and corners and bounces and a three-story wall. From a place where there was artificial turf that played to his speed to a place that’s pure, natural baseball.

It had reached the point where Crawford, nor anyone else, wanted to talk about The Slump. You’d get the old “leave the guy alone’’ stare when you would ask players about Crawford’s troubles, and nobody wants to talk about another guy’s hardship.

Who knows, maybe that question won’t have to be asked so often now.

Crawford smiled a little yesterday when this reporter commented that he was taking a tour of the lineup, inserted into the No. 8 spot last night for the first time this season. He’s now hit first, second, third, seventh, and eighth. Manager Terry Francona said he was seeking lineup balance by sliding Crawford that far down, but we know what’s going on here. Francona has tried everything to make him feel more important and take the pressure off.

He’s spent seven games in the leadoff spot, three games in the No. 2 spot, two games hitting third, six games hitting seventh, and now one game at No. 8.

Things have been so bad that Crawford has tried to bunt his way on. He’s swinging and missing and getting fooled on offspeed pitches. He was never a huge on-base percentage guy, but he’s getting on at a .205 clip this year and he’s slugging .192. In 78 at-bats, he’s hitting .154 with two doubles, four RBIs, and four steals.

Scouts can’t believe their eyes.

“He’s never been a guy who can take a walk,’’ said one American League scout, “so when these slumps happen he tried to swing his way out of it rather than try to put together a good at-bat and look at a lot of pitches. He doesn’t do that. He’s never done that.’’

“No confidence at all,’’ said another scout who has watched Crawford his entire career. “He looks now like he did when he was a young player just starting out in this league. That’s how bad his confidence level is when I see him. I don’t know the ins and outs of what’s going on with him, but from my observations, that’s what he looks like to me.’’

“Balls that he was putting into the seats or driving to the gaps, he’s not getting,’’ said another evaluator. “He can be pitched to outside and he doesn’t seem to be doing much with that pitch.’’

If he’s not hitting, he’s not getting on base. If he’s not getting on base, he’s not stealing bases.

He spends a lot of time with hitting coach Dave Magadan.

“You won’t see a harder-working guy ever,’’ said former Tampa Bay teammate Dan Wheeler. “I get asked tons of questions about him and I really don’t have any answers. I know the player I played with in Tampa Bay was one of the best talents I’d ever played with. He has explosive qualities like his speed and his bat and his defense. He’s the best outfielder I’ve ever seen. When he puts it all together you’re going to see one great player. The player we all saw in Tampa Bay will come out. He’s just in a slump like hundreds of great players get into sometime. You can’t explain it. It’s one of those things.’’

The Sox brass is completely on board with Crawford and they trust the work Magadan is doing with him.

“There’s no magic solution,’’ said assistant general manager Ben Cherington. “Mags has worked with him a lot and they’re trying to work things out. It’s just one of those things where something has to click as it does with anyone who is in a slump and all of sudden he gets locked in and we’re confident that’s going to happen with Carl.

“Really good players get into slumps and really good players come out of them and then go on a tear. He’s working his butt off to make sure he’s doing everything he can to work out of it and that’s all we can ask for. We’re here to provide support for him. I know his teammates have.’’

Crawford has never started this poorly. The closest to this slump was when he hit .252 in the first month of the 2003 season.

It’s reached the point where everyone is a hitting coach. David Ortiz knows the feeling with his past April struggles and he’s counseled Crawford. When Crawford reaches for his cellphone, it’s usually someone trying to offer advice on his stance.

And so Crawford decided “to shut all of that out.’’

Then he got to Anaheim, where he has dealt with scorned fans who thought he went for the bucks in Boston rather than what they thought was a more ideal situation. Some fans tossed crumpled $1 bills toward Crawford in the on-deck circle Thursday night.

Can you blame a guy for taking $142 million from the Red Sox? Angels owner Arte Moreno insists he never made a formal offer to Crawford, feeling the Red Sox would overpay to keep him away from the Yankees.

As happened with Ortiz, we will likely see an end to the slump of all slumps.

Was last night the beginning?

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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