LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has never been all that worried about how Carl Crawford would handle the pressure of a massive contract and a new team. He already went through that in Boston.
But that doesn’t mean Crawford felt no sense of urgency.
The way he sees it now, the roof began caving in slowly, chunk by tiny chunk, the day he looked at the lineup card in the visiting clubhouse in Arlington, Texas, and saw his name in the No. 7 hole. That was his third game with the Red Sox, April 3, 2011.
Crawford had gone 0-for-7 batting third in the first two games and the Red Sox were facing left-hander Matt Harrison. Manager Terry Francona said at the time, “Looking at him, he’s obviously trying too hard.”
Crawford said Sunday he entered this season intent on giving Mattingly no reason to make such a quick move.
“After going through that, I decided I’m going to try to have hot starts,” Crawford said. “You never know when a manager might panic like that again and tell you things like, ‘We’re doing this for you.’ You know? Going through that definitely messes with your confidence because, first of all, you can’t believe they spent $140 million to put you in the seven-hole and, second, you’ve never been in that situation before so you don’t really know how to take it.
“It was as if the team really doesn’t want you or you’re doing something wrong. Now, your mind just starts to get flustered and cluttered with all kinds of stuff.”
It is, of course, ridiculously early to make any sweeping conclusions, but through the Dodgers’ first six games, Crawford has looked anything but flustered. He looks, in fact, much more like the dynamic, run-scoring force he was for nine seasons in Tampa Bay than the unsure, injury-prone player he became in Boston. He has been the engine of what little offense the Dodgers have produced, hitting .450 and scoring five of the team’s 17 runs.
“I think we're seeing little glimpses of what everybody else was seeing for a while,” Mattingly said.
His rebuilt left elbow has held up fine. He has, in fact, surprised Mattingly and the other coaches by putting more zip on his throws than they would have expected less than eight months removed from surgery.
The only time Crawford has looked bad so far was in Friday’s game, when he was tagged out jogging into second base after a stolen-base attempt. That, it turns out, was the result of a scoreboard malfunction. The Dodgers were still working out the glitches in their new high-def right-field scoreboard and the count wasn’t displayed, so Crawford asked first-base umpire Gerry Davis. He told him it was a full count.
The next pitch, a ball, was only the third thrown to Mark Ellis. Crawford said the umpire later apologized for contributing to an out.
“I guess I should know the count myself, but you have those periods where you’re looking at everything else and, if you can’t ask the umpire, who can you ask?” Crawford said.
As Crawford becomes more comfortable in Los Angeles and in the leadoff spot, the Dodgers could get a key return on their risky investment (they owe him $102.5 million through 2017). When they made their blockbuster trade with Boston last August, Crawford -- injured at the time -- was viewed by some people in baseball as an immovable commodity.
Low-scoring games like the Dodgers have been playing tend to showcase the talents of catalysts like Crawford. One of the reasons he was a four-time All-Star and twice received MVP votes in Tampa was that the Rays generally field pitching-and-defense teams.
Taking risks on the bases hasn't been a big part of what the Red Sox do. Crawford averaged 45 stolen bases a season in Tampa. His 162-game average in Boston was 24. Crawford's speed also was largely wasted in the tiny left field at Fenway Park. Roaming with Kemp and Andre Ethier, Crawford could give the Dodgers' one of the league's least-permeable outfields.
Crawford said he already feels more comfortable on the laid-back West Coast than in Boston, where fans’ moods often swing widely depending on how the Red Sox are playing. He likes the loose feeling in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
He points across the room toward his teammate, Matt Kemp, who has begun this season in a 2-for-20 slump.
“You see how loose Matt is right now going through it. That’s how I was,” Crawford said. “I’m like, ‘I’m going to hit.’ I was exactly the same way. He’s not stressing or worried, but if he was in Boston right now, they’d probably be ready to trade him, you know? “