Towards the end of spring training, Red Sox manager Alex Cora revealed that Rich Hill would begin the year as the team’s fifth starter.
As a result of that decision, Garrett Whitlock, who had been competing with Hill throughout camp for the final spot in Boston’s starting rotation, would remain in the bullpen as he did over the course of the 2021 season.
At the time he named Hill the No. 5 starter, Cora indicated that the Sox were going to have Whitlock stretched out and were planning on having the two hurlers paired together on days Hill started.
The main idea behind the two piggybacking off one another is that Hill, a left-hander, does not possess the same sort of overpowering velocity that Whitlock, a right-hander does.
On Tuesday, the Red Sox were able to put this plan into action against the Tigers at Comerica Park. Hill allowed three earned runs on five hits, one walk, and four strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings of work. That is good for an ERA of 6.23, though his 1.95 FIP is much more indicative of how he actually pitched.
Of the 70 pitches Hill threw on Tuesday afternoon, 54 went for strikes. The 42-year-old southpaw’s slowest pitch (a curveball) registered at 66.2 mph while his fastest pitch (a four-seam fastball) registered at 89.8 mph, per Baseball Savant.
After Hill had already recorded the first out of the fifth inning, Cora turned to his bullpen and Hirokazu Sawamura, who stranded the lone runner he inherited to turn things over to Whitlock beginning in the sixth.
Whitlock entered a 3-3 game, fresh off signing a four-year contract extension with Boston over the weekend. Making his first relief appearance since last Friday, the hard-throwing righty was nearly perfect as he struck out two and retired 12 of the 13 hitters he faced.
In the process of dominating the Tigers’ lineup, Whitlock was the benefactor of a late eighth-inning rally that lifted the Red Sox to a 5-3 victory on Tuesday. Picking up his first win of the year as a result, the 25-year-old needed just 39 pitches (28 strikes) to toss four scoreless, no-hit frames.
Of those 39 pitches, the slowest Whitlock threw (a slider) registered at 79.6 mph and the fastest (a sinking fastball) clocked in at 96.8 mph. Quite the difference from what Hill was offering earlier in the contest.
“There’s a reason we like them together,” Cora said. “They’re gonna load up with righties against Rich and he can get them out and then we can turn the page to Whitlock and we get a lot of good matchups for us. I think both of them complement each other well. (Hill throwing) 88 with ride, and then (Whitlock throwing) 94, 95 with that stuff. It’s a good plan. It’s just a matter of how long we can do it.”
The Red Sox’ plan to have Whitlock piggyback Hill will work better in the month of April while rosters are expanded. As highlighted by The Athletic’s Chad Jennings, Boston is currently carrying 10 relievers on its 28-man roster.
With Whitlock available for multiple innings on days Hill pitches, the Red Sox will have nine other relievers to choose from on days when Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, or Tanner Houck are starting.
(Picture of Garrett Whitlock and Kevin Plawecki: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)