But Garrett Whitlock hadn’t pitched above Double A and was coming off Tommy John surgery. The Yankees had made him available in the Rule 5 Draft and they’re not a team that generally makes mistakes with their own prospects.
Red Sox bench coach Will Venable had a similar experience.
“I remember watching [Whitlock’s] first live BP and his first fastball. I said to somebody, ‘Man, I don’t want to get too excited but that looks special.’ It was right away for me for him.”
Whitlock not only made the team, he pitched 73 1/3 innings over 46 games with a 1.96 earned run average and 81 strikeouts. Five postseason games were equally impressive.
Saturday night was the next step. Whitlock made his first major league start against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field and fired four dominant innings. He allowed one hit without a walk and struck out seven.
With his parents, brother, and grandmother in attendance, Whitlock allowed one hit without a walk and struck out seven.
The Rays didn’t get on base until Brandon Lowe doubled leading off the fourth. Whitlock threw seven of the next 10 pitches for strikes to quickly end the inning on a popup, a strikeout, and a fly ball.
It was remarkable composition for a 25-year-old whose previous professional start was 33 months ago.
“I try and stay in a rhythm. As a pitcher, you try and dictate that,” Whitlock said. “Always try and attack the hitters.”
Of his 48 pitches, the Rays swung and missed at 21 of them. His sinker from him averaged 97.8 mph.
With Tanner Houk unavailable in Toronto because he refuses to get vaccinated, Whitlock will likely stay in the rotation to face the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
Perhaps Houck should have done more research.
For now, it’s uncertain how Whitlock fits best. For this particular Sox team, it could be as a multi-inning relief ace if veteran starters Chris Sale and James Paxton successfully return from injuries.
But eventually, either this season or next, Whitlock will be a full-time starter. Any otherwise is a waste of his talent from him.
The four-year, $18.75 million extension Whitlock agreed to earlier this month has escalators that will increase his pay if he becomes a starter.
Whitlock said Saturday he’d let the Sox decide all that. But it doesn’t seem complicated.
“You probably want your best pitcher throwing as many innings as possible,” Venable said. “How it’s all going to play out, how it works for us, we’ll figure it out.”
Whitlock was long gone before the Sox lost the game, 3-2 in 10 innings.
Their first hit of the game was an RBI triple by Bobby Dalbec in the 10th inning to score ghost runner Jackie Bradley. The Rays came back with three in the bottom of the inning, the final two on Kevin Kiermaier’s home run after Trevor Story’s throwing error kept the game going.
Saturday was the first time Whitlock started a game since July 3, 2019. Pitching for the Double A Trenton Thunder at Portland, he allowed nine runs [three earned] on eight hits over five innings.
Whitlock had Tommy John surgery later that month. That’s what prompted the Yankees not to protect him.
Dalbec homered off Whitlock in the third inning of that game in 2019. On Saturday he played behind him at first base.
“He was good then, but when you face him now it feels like he’s going to flick you in the nose with the ball,” Dalbec said. “His extension of him is incredible and he commands everything.
“I’m glad we have him. Great guy, too.”
One of Chaim Bloom’s first moves as president of baseball operations was taking Jonathan Araúz in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft. He stayed on the roster throughout the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and has since gone back-and-forth from Triple A Worcester as a utility player.
Arauz is useful. Whitlock is definitely more than that.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.