BALTIMORE — The feeling was unlike anything Garrett Whitlock had experienced. The righthander compared what he experienced in the seventh inning Sept. 19, in a game against the Orioles, to a runner feeling a slight twinge in a hamstring — only in this case, he was a pitcher who felt discomfort in his right pectoral muscle.
Mindful of the stage of the season and his sense of responsibility to his team, he tried to pitch through it — but his velocity plummeted, convincing third baseman Rafael Devers to motion to the dugout for the training staff. Whitlock was removed from the game for an injury that has now had him on the injured list for 10 days.
“Coming out, I felt like I’d let the team down a little bit,” said Whitlock. “[Nate Eovaldi] told me, ‘Hey, if you’re in there, when you’re not pitching up to your standards because you’re not feeling good, you’re not helping the team anyways.’ ”
The 25-year-old’s absence has been glaring at times. Whitlock is 8-4 with a pair of saves and a 1.99 ERA in 72⅓ innings this year. In recent days, when the Sox blew leads on back-to-back days in the eighth inning against the Yankees, it was easy to imagine how Whitlock could have changed things for the Sox.
“Any time you can’t help the team win, you feel bad,” said Whitlock. “I’m just trying to take my work each day seriously and get back as quick as I can so that I can help the team.”
Though Whitlock is eligible to be activated from the injured list Thursday, he won’t be. The righthander threw on flat ground at Camden Yards for the second time in as many days on Wednesday. Manager Alex Cora said Whitlock will throw a bullpen session Friday, at which point the team will reevaluate plans for him.
Whitlock said he feels “encouraged” by his recovery, though he’s trying to focus on each step rather than guessing when he’ll be ready to return to games. At a time when the Sox are arriving at a string of must-win contests, Whitlock revealed that his preparation all year has involved exactly the games for which he hopes to be ready.
“The way I liked to prepare, beforehand, I was imagining, all right, this is the Wild Card Game. When I go out to pitch, this is a Wild Card Game. I’ve got to make sure I throw up a zero,” said Whitlock. “That way, I can get prepared if I’m in that situation.”
It is possible that Whitlock will have a chance to be in games this weekend that could help the Sox to reach that point. Despite his disappointment now, he maintained perspective.
“I got through Tommy John. This compared to Tommy John is nothing. It sucks when it happens, but there’s nothing I really could have done to prevent it,” said Whitlock. “I just go about each day and I’m just thankful that I’m here. You know, so that’s, that’s how I’m able to stay calm and upbeat and happy.”