fb-pixel Skip to main content
Red Sox

When hitters started to figure Garrett Whitlock out, he started making some necessary adjustments

Garrett Whitlock was unscored upon in his first 13⅓ innings this season.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Garrett Whitlock sat in the Fenway stands behind the home dugout on Wednesday afternoon, drenched in sweat. The righthander had just finished a typical throwing progression a day after a relief appearance in which Whitlock had tossed two scoreless against the Braves.

The scene around the ballpark was calm. Fans had yet to trickle in. The sun glimmered off the seats that fill what is considered a baseball sanctuary.

It’s easy to appreciate the Fenway Park experience. Easy to become entrenched with a fan base that showers its players with praise in their success, and condemnation in their failure.

Whitlock knows what the bottom feels like. To be plagued by Tommy John surgery, erased from the memory of an organization that doesn’t view you as a part of its future.

Advertisement



Whitlock’s focus, instead, is seen through the lens of staying in the big leagues and the adjustments needed to do so.

Whitlock’s story is well-documented: a pitcher shrewdly plucked by the Red Sox from the Yankees during last offseason’s Rule 5 draft. He hadn’t pitched above Double A.

The success this season was well-detailed, too: Whitlock went his first 13⅓ innings without yielding a run. He struck out 18 in that span and walked just two. Whitlock’s 6-foot-5-inch wiry and flexible frame lends itself to elite extension on the mound. The extension, then the arm-side run on his sinker and changeup, coupled with his upper-90s heater, make it hard for hitters to pick up. His arm slot can be likened to a dart thrower, making it even more of a headache for opponents.

But success in the big leagues has a lifespan, of course. Whitlock saw his early-season brilliance end May 2 when he allowed a leadoff homer to the Rangers’ Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the seventh inning, putting a close to his scoreless streak. He then allowed three runs (two earned) vs. the Tigers in his next appearance.

Advertisement



Despite that, though, manager Alex Cora and the Sox wanted to reassure Whitlock of one thing: They like him and see him as a part of the team’s future.

Garrett Whitlock is 0-1 with a 1.95 ERA this season.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“I feel worse when things don’t go right than anything else,” Whitlock said Wednesday. “And so, when [Cora] tells me that, when [Jason] Varitek tells me that, it builds confidence. It means the world because it’s like, they trust me to go out there and do my job.”

Whitlock has come to understand that faith, something he leans on heavily, isn’t always a beautiful day at the ballpark, but more a fight in a back alley. The Red Sox have seen enough of Whitlock to know that they want to be in that fight with him.

“There’s a lot of positive reinforcement with Garrett, and really with anybody on our staff,” said pitching coach Dave Bush. “In Garrett’s case, when you’re a Rule 5 guy, first time in the big leagues, there’s an amount of doubt and insecurity, about whether you’re good enough and whether you can continue to be good enough. Whether you belong there.”

There’s the occasional look into the dugout, searching for your manager’s reaction. There’s the doubt, thinking that the league, perhaps, has figured you out, that makes you question if this is the bottom again. But the Red Sox and Whitlock understand that you can’t dwell in failure. The big leagues are too good. It’ll swallow you up if you do. So, they go back to the drawing board, infusing confidence and adjusting game plans.

Advertisement



For Whitlock, while his changeup-sinker-four-seamer mix is impressive, in order for him to take that next leap they know he will need another pitch. Despite working at different speeds, his changeup and sinker have the same arm-side run. As a result, big league hitters can sit on a location but still adjust to velocity.

So, Whitlock has been working on a slider, just to give hitters a different look on a pitch that, ideally, runs in an opposite direction. In addition to direction, Whitlock is trying to adjust the speed of his slider.

Garrett Whitlock is in his first season with the Red Sox.Steven Senne/Associated Press

“Before surgery my changeup was only like 86-88 miles per hour. And then my breaking ball was like 79-81,” Whitlock said. “My new changeup is anywhere from 80-85. If my breaking ball was right around that, too, then the hitters only have to try and adjust to different speeds. So, we’re trying to make the slider a little bit harder so that we have three different ranges that hitters have to adjust for.”

That’s easier said than done, of course. It’s a work in progress.

“I don’t know what his slider is going to look like quite yet,” Bush said. “At times, he’s thrown a little bit bigger version. Like a baby curveball. And then the other night it was 88. A nice short, hard slider. So, he’s trying different things. He’s been trying some different grips, and he’s working on finger pressure and the intent behind it.”

Advertisement



Whitlock hasn’t been scored upon in his last two outings. He pitched with precise command in Tuesday’s two-inning performance against the Braves, dotting the corners and remaining aggressive in the strike zone.

Tinkering aside, the intent is for Whitlock to be here for a while. By definition, he’s a Rule 5 pitcher, but he’s everything but that to the Sox. The league adjusted to him. He’s now adjusting back, with the Sox fueling his growth and confidence.

“It’s a day-by-day thing,” Whitlcok said. “That’s part of it. It’s the cat-and-mouse game. You work on it.”


Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.