ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Garrett Whitlock is 26. But after he pitches for the Red Sox, he walks across the clubhouse looking like he’s 76.
It’s an old man shuffle, one careful step at time.
“I’m moving better than him,” manager Alex Cora said Wednesday.
Whitlock has been pitching with what the team says is inflammation in his right hip. It has been an issue going back to early June. The righthander spent 36 days on the injured list and has been used carefully since.
The Whitlock Rules are that he doesn’t pitch on consecutive days and gets at least one day off for every inning he pitches. Cora and pitching coach Dave Bush also have told Whitlock to be honest with them about how he feels.
“We’ve just got to take care of him,” Cora said. “There are some days that he feels tight and we have to stay away from him.”
According to Cora, the medical staff does not see this as a long-term problem. Once the season is over and Whitlock rests and gets some rehabilitation work done, he’ll be back to normal for spring training.
Here’s my question: Why not start that process now?
There are only 24 games left to play and the Sox are out of contention for anything meaningful. Shut Whitlock down and let him heal up.
“I understand why you’d ask that. But I won’t want to leave the other guys hanging,” Whitlock said. “That’s just how I feel. I can still pitch and help this team win games.
“I tell them if it’s bothering me. I have a good relationship with [Cora] and I promised them that. But when I can pitch, I want to be out there. That means a lot to me.”
His work ethic is admirable. Whitlock’s commitment to the organization and his teammates is one of the reasons the Sox were comfortable signing him to a four-year, $18.75 million contract extension before the season.
But the biggest reason the Sox made that commitment, which could grow to $44.5 million with options, is that Whitlock has the ability to be a front-end starter or a lockdown closer.
He’s one of the keys to the future in either role.
Lower-body injury injuries sometimes cause pitchers to alter their mechanics and that can lead to elbow or shoulder problems.
The Sox are surely keeping a close watch on the biomechanical data to make sure Whitlock isn’t stressing any other body parts because of his hip.
But why take even the slightest chance with nothing at stake?
“I’ve been told I can’t make it any worse,” Whitlock said. “I’ve asked those questions and that’s the answer I got. I believe that. Once the season is over, I’ll rest and we’ll get this cleaned up and I’ll be fine.”
So, no surgery?
“That’s never come up,” Whitlock said.
Whitlock also does not see his injury having any effect on how the Sox choose to use him in the future.
He was a reliever to open the season, went into the rotation on April 23, and stayed there until going on the injured list. He has pitched only in relief since.
“Whatever they want me to do, I’ll be ready to do it in spring training,” Whitlock said.
The Sox stole Whitlock from the Yankees in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft. He was recovering from Tommy John surgery at the time and they took a chance.
It’s arguably the best move of Chaim Bloom’s tenure as chief baseball officer. Whitlock has a 2.72 ERA over 74 games since. He’s a pitcher who could start Game 7 of the World Series someday.
A lot of smart folks say it’s fine for him to keep pitching. They’re probably right. But why take a chance?