The best reliever on the Red Sox is basically pitching on a starter’s schedule, and that’s by design. But it doesn’t mean the Red Sox won’t find a bigger role for Garrett Whitlock.
The right-hander, selected from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft, already qualifies as an absolute steal. Five games into his career, he has yet to allow a run, and only on Friday did he surrender his first walk. He has pitched 11.1 innings and struck out 14 with a mid-90s sinker and what already is one of the best changeups on the staff.
The one thing Whitlock hasn’t done is pitch very often. A starter throughout his minor league career, he has thrown out of the bullpen for the Red Sox, always with at least four days between appearances. That’s a concession to both his inexperience — he had never pitched above Double A before this season — and the fact that he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019.
So why hasn’t his role increased? Allow pitching coach Dave Bush to explain.
“I mean, look, he’s pitched really well,” Bush said on Sunday. “He’s certainly performed well enough to have a better role, but there’s still a lot of factors here. He missed a whole year because of Tommy John. It’s his first time in the big leagues. We’re trying to be smart about how we use him and make sure we develop him appropriately.”
That said, with the Red Sox struggling to find a reliable eighth-inning arm in front of closer Matt Barnes, Whitlock looms as the most obvious candidate, given his stuff and results. Bush understands the thought process.
“Sometimes the tendency or the temptation can be to put too much on guys like that too soon, simply because they start out really well,” he said.
“But we’re trying to be cautious and trying to do the right thing for him, so we found a couple of situations lately where he can pitch multiple innings, and he can continue to gain experience and he’s going to have some bumps in the road sometime soon.
“He’s going to have some games that aren’t great for him, and that’s part of the learning process. We want to make sure we allow him to develop and learn from those things at the right pace.”
Quality over quantity
Whitlock’s WHIP in 2021 (leads team)
The beauty of Whitlock’s emergence is that it gives the Red Sox options. While he’ll eventually be given every chance to land in the rotation, there’s no need to rush that process this year, not with Tanner Houck already providing effective starting depth.
Whitlock has thrown multiple innings in all but one of his relief appearances, so the Red Sox could continue to stretch him out and use him once or twice a week, or they could start preparing him for more regular action.
“I don’t know what his role is going to be the rest of the year,” Bush said. “Might become bigger, it might be more length, it might be more frequent shorter outings, but he’s done a lot of things really well up to this point, so we’re going to continue letting him pitch and see where we go with him.”