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Boston Red Sox

Apr 8, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Garrett Whitlock (72) delivers pitch during the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

If the Red Sox are going to keep things interesting this year, they’re going to need some surprising, positive developments. And so, today, we once again present to you Garrett Whitlock.

While left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez made his return to the mound and got the Red Sox (4-3) another win yesterday, don’t be fooled: Whitlock was the more important story. Boston’s (Out Of) Nowhere Man pitched two positively spotless innings in relief, building the bridge from the fifth inning to the eighth inning that will be critical if the Red Sox are to have any success this year.

Whitlock has now made two appearances this year, totaling 5.1 innings. He has eight strikeouts and no walks while allowing one hit. He has thrown 54 of his 79 pitches for strikes, an impressive 68.3 percent. He works fast, has a good delivery, feels completely in command of his pitches, emotions and attitude.

“You see it, and it’s like, ‘Wow, he belongs,’” said a succinct Alex Cora, Red Sox manager.

Here’s the big thing: on Sunday, Whitlock pitched in a game the Sox were losing 10-0. Yesterday, Cora got Whitlock warming in a game the Red Sox were trailing 3-2. In the interim, the Red Sox went ahead, 4-3. Most managers have a select group of guys they turn to with a lead as the game reaches its critical stages, but even though the game changed some while Whitlock was warming, Cora went with him anyway.

The result? Six up, six down, three strikeouts.

Explained Cora: “That was a situation where we’re down, get the lead, he was hot, so why not? We needed him, and he did an outstanding job.”

Now feels like a good time to emphasize a few things. First, Whitlock is not a fluke. He showed a two-seam fastball with good movement during spring training, when he opened eyes from the start. At the time, he also showed a breaking ball (slider) that looked average and a changeup that looked inconsistent. (This was early in camp.) Yesterday, he threw his changeup to even right-handed batters, which takes some guts. He’s either been working on his changeup or it’s better than we initially thought. But it was a useful pitch for him yesterday, and it’s important.

The following video shows the changeup he threw to right-handed-hitting Pedro Severino for a strikeout in the seventh. Pay particular attention to the replay, where you can see that he’s throwing a change with a three-finger grip. Whitlock may have gotten some benefit from the call, but it’s a good pitch and in a good spot:

Whitlock v Severino

Watch and share Whitlock V Severino GIFs by tmassarotti on Gfycat

OK, next batter: Freddy Galvis, a switch-hitter who is batting left-handed. Early in spring training, Whitlock showed some inconsistency with regard to getting the ball inside on left-handed batters. Because his ball naturally tails to the right-handed batter’s box, this could be a problem. But Whitlock pierces the outside corner with a fastball to Galvis on the first pitch, then strikes him out with a changeup – 10 mph slower – in the exact same spot at the end of the at-bat. This is downright surgical:

Whitlock V Galvis GIF by tmassarotti | Gfycat

Watch and share Whitlock V Galvis GIFs by tmassarotti on Gfycat

Finally, Whitlock’s final out – against the left-handed-hitting Rio Ruiz. Again, he starts with a fastball similar to the one he threw Galvis, but the pitch catches just a little more of the plate and is higher in the strike zone. Whitlock records an out on the pitch, but we include it here as something to watch for because this is where he could be vulnerable. Ruiz makes solid contact, but the ball goes to left-fielder Franchy Cordero, who barely has to move.

Whitlock v Ruiz

Watch and share Whitlock V Ruiz GIFs by tmassarotti on Gfycat

Again, here’s the point: Whitlock needs that changeup because it gives him a better chance against left-handed batters. Against righties, his fastball alone is good enough because it has good movement and good velocity – and he has excellent control and command of it. But against lefties, Whitlock’s fastball is going to tail over the plate until he can throw consistently on the inside part of the plate against lefties. So he needs something off-speed to keep lefties from just teeing off on his fastball.

Oh, and then there’s this: he’s 25 and hasn’t pitched since 2019 because of Tommy John surgery. He has just 80 innings to his name at Double-A. Whitlock has excellent promise with a high ceiling, but he’s probably going to be on an innings restriction this year and the Red Sox have to pick their spots with him. He ultimately projects as a starter but will probably be in the bullpen for at least a while.

“We still have to be careful,” Cora warned. “This is not what he’s used to, but we do believe his stuff will play.”

The stuff plays. The kid can pitch.

The 2021 Red Sox (and beyond) just need more players – and stories – like him.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.