Garrett Whitlock’s major-league debut came in an otherwise forgettable game for the Red Sox.
In their series finale against the Orioles this past Sunday at Fenway Park, the Sox found themselves down by 10 runs before the midway point of the third inning.
Whitlock, having come over from the Yankees as a Rule 5 Draft pick in December, came on in relief of left-hander Josh Taylor with two outs in the top half of the third.
From that point forward, the right-hander did not look back as he retired 10 of the 13 hitters he faced over 3 1/3 scoreless innings of work.
Four days later, Whitlock was called on again to pitch against the Orioles, though he was doing so in Baltimore in a game that was much more competitive.
After the Sox lineup tacked on two runs in their half of the sixth to retake the lead over the O’s at 4-3, Whitlock came on in relief of Thursday’s starter, Eduardo Rodriguez, in the bottom half of the frame.
Although he was pitching in a closer game in his second outing of the season, the 24-year-old did not miss a beat in the process of sitting down all six hitters he faced in order over two perfect, scoreless innings of relief.
He needed just 20 pitches (15 strikes) to get through those two innings. 11 of those pitches were changeups, eight were sinkers, and one was a four-seam fastball that registered at 95.3 mph.
“You see it and it’s like, ‘Wow, he belongs,'” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Whitlock’s performance on Thursday. “The tempo. The conviction. Most of the time, Rule 5 guys don’t shake off your catcher, right? But he knows what he wants to do, and he does. He shakes him off and he goes to the pitch he feels is right in that situation. He’s been great for us.”
A former 18th-round draft selection of the Yankees out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2017, Whitlock had compiled 42 appearances (38 starts) across four minor-league levels before undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2019.
His recovery from that procedure coincided with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so before this past Sunday he hadn’t pitched in a competitive game in nearly two years.
“We still have to be careful,” Cora said in regards to Whitlock. “This is not what he’s used to. But, we do believe his stuff will play. This is the second time [the Orioles] have seen him and you saw the swings, so we’re comfortable with him. That was a situation where we were down, we get the lead, he was hot, so why not, you know? We needed him, and he did an outstanding job.”
Christian Vazquez has caught Whitlock in both of his outings thus far. It’s safe to say the veteran backstop has been impressed with what he has seen from the rookie hurler in those two appearances.
“He’s doing good, man. Great kid,” Vazquez said Thursday. “He’s got great stuff. Heavy fastball. Plus changeup. So he’s doing good. I think he’s going to help us big time.”
Whitlock, who turns 25 in June, must remain on the Sox’ major-league roster throughout the season or he would otherwise have to be offered back to New York since he is a Rule 5 pick.
Assuming he remains in Boston for the entirety of the 2021 campaign, the Georgia native would then be under team control through the 2026 season.
This would allow the Red Sox to maintain the services of a young, controllable arm with plenty of potential who could emerge as a legitimate starting rotation option next spring.
(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: Rob Carr/Getty Images)