FORT MYERS, Fla. — Six months removed from season-ending hip surgery, Garrett Whitlock feels healthy, strong, and unencumbered on the mound. Still, he won’t quite be ready to open the year in the Red Sox rotation.
On Monday, Whitlock made his second Grapefruit League appearance and first start, allowing two unearned runs on three hits over three innings while striking out three and walking one. He worked mostly at 92-94 miles per hour and topped out at 95, though he had mixed reviews of his arsenal.
“Me and the two-seam [fastball] and the changeup have a really good relationship right now; I’m happy with that,” said Whitlock. “Still working on the slider, getting that kind of ironed out and shaped up for the rest of the season. And then same thing with the four-seam.”
In theory, Whitlock could accomplish those goals over two starts in the next 10 days in Florida and then start the fifth game of the regular season April 4. But manager Alex Cora ruled out such a scenario, making it sound all but certain Whitlock will get at least one minor league rehab start.
“We’re not going to cut corners on this,” said Cora. “There’s no rush here. We’ve just got to be patient. Last year, I think we rushed into a few situations and it put us in a bad spot. We learned from it and we’re not going to make the same mistakes.”
Cora said the Sox want both Brayan Bello and Whitlock to pitch in at least five games before they will be considered for the rotation. Both have already had two-inning outings, and Whitlock has now had a three-inning start, with games of four, five, and five innings to come. With a steady progression, Whitlock might miss as little as one turn of the rotation, while Bello might miss as little as two.
“I feel ready. My arm feels great. My body feels great,” said Whitlock. “[Earlier in camp] I worried too much about when I was going to pitch and everything. I’m just going to pitch when they tell me to pitch, just kind of put my head down and trust the process and keep working.’ ”
Men in the middle
Kiké Hernández, back from a stint as the center fielder for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, received an immediate test in his return to shortstop Monday. He made a fine backhand play in the hole on the Pirates’ first batter of the game but airmailed the throw for an error. But Hernández made some solid plays in his seven innings, while going 0 for 3.
Hernández expressed no reservations about his reacclimation to short, and he raved about the WBC experience — particularly Puerto Rico’s win-or-go-home contest against the Dominican Republic to advance in group play.
“It was nuts. It was kind of like the wild-card game on steroids, honestly,” said Hernández, who added that the energy of the contest surpassed anything he experienced in three World Series.
While Hernández is back, another Sox infielder remains stuck on the other side of the international dateline. Yu Chang, competing for a backup infield spot, is still in Taiwan. He’s expected to arrive in camp Thursday.
Chang hasn’t played in games since March 11. It’s an open question whether the layoff will prevent him from being ready at the start of the season.
Lefthander Joely Rodriguez underwent an MRI that revealed a Grade 2 (moderate) right oblique strain, according to Cora. “Timetable is whenever he’s ready,” said Cora. “We’ve just got to attack it and get him healthy.” A Grade 2 strain typically comes with a six-to-eight-week period without throwing, according to industry sources. The lefty (who signed a one-year, $2 million deal this winter with a team option) could land on the 60-day injured list to open a 40-man roster spot . . . Both John Schreiber (7.71 ERA) and Ryan Brasier (5.40 ERA) allowed a pair of runs Monday. Where are they in their buildups? “Not where they want to be. We’ve got to start getting there,” said Cora. “We’ve got enough time to get it corrected, but we don’t have too much time to be ready. Do we like where they’re at now? No. There’s a lot of contact, a lot of loud contact.” . . . With the Sox contemplating adding a lefty to their bullpen to take Rodriguez’s place, Ryan Sherriff logged a scoreless inning. The lefthander hasn’t given up an earned run in 5⅔ innings while striking out seven and walking none.
Corey Kluber threw six innings in a minor league game, throwing an astounding 73 of 84 pitches (87 percent) for strikes while allowing one run, walking one, and striking out seven . . . The Red Sox reassigned five non-roster invitees to minor league camp: utilityman Ryan Fitzgerald, catcher Stephen Scott, infielders Christian Koss and Nick Sogard, and outfielder Narciso Crook. The cuts left 41 players in big league camp, including six (starters Bello, Whitlock, and James Paxton, catcher Connor Wong, and infielders Adalberto Mondesi and Trevor Story) who are expected to open the year on the injured list.
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.