Boston Red Sox

Oct 16, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Garrett Whitlock (72) pitches against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning in game two of the 2021 ALCS at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of his Red Sox career, teases occasionally came and went of moving Garrett Whitlock to the starting rotation. With that possibility still open down the road, Boston got its first glimpse of such a scenario when he made his first career start on Saturday.

Whitlock did exactly what he has done in every role with the Red Sox: work efficiently and dominate opposing hitters. The righty gave Boston four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit while striking out seven.

Whitlock enjoyed the opportunity and spoke to his abilities in a new role.

“I try and stay in a rhythm,” Whitlock told reporters after the game. “Obviously as a pitcher you try and dictate that and everything. I’m just always trying to attack the zone, and that has kind of been my key.”

Whitlock’s success as a starter presents a good challenge for the Red Sox. Is he best suited to stay in the bullpen or make the jump to the starting rotation?

With big arms such as Chris Sale and James Paxton recovering from injury and Tanner Houck unable to pitch in Toronto as an unvaccinated player, Whitlock would fill a solid hole in the rotation with durability and quality innings. At the same time, Whitlock is a highly versatile reliever in a bullpen that continues to find stability in high leverage situations.

Whitlock’s success presents the Red Sox with a great problem to have. Whether he jumps to the rotation or stays in the bullpen, Whitlock remains one of baseball’s most valuable arms.

Red Sox Opponent Profile: What to know about the 2022 Tampa Bay Rays

  • Tampa Bay in 2021 continued a stretch of dominant play through a young core molded in a talented player development department. The Rays ran away with the division, winning the American League East over the Red Sox by eight games in 2021, in a 100-win season. Despite being upset by the Red Sox in four games in the American League Division Series, the Rays return in 2022 as postseason contenders once again.

    Additions

    Corey Kluber #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays delivers a pitch to the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning at Tropicana Field on April 10, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    Corey Kluber #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays delivers a pitch to the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning at Tropicana Field on April 10, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    Tampa Bay opted for two signings to bolster depth instead of making a big splash. In the rotation, the Rays added Corey Kluber on a one-year deal for $8 million. After two forgettable seasons, Kluber held his own in 16 games with the Yankees in 2021, pitching to a 5-3 record with a 3.83 ERA. The veteran right-hander struck out just over nine batters per nine innings and tossed a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers.

    If Kluber can continue to bounce back, Tampa Bay’s deep analytics department that has created a machine of elite arms can certainly help. In the bullpen, the Rays signed Brooks Raley to add a lefthander in relief. Raley served as a valuable arm for Houston last season, striking out 11.9 batters per nine innings and offers versatility for Kevin Cash this season.

  • Departures

    Apr 15, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Washington Nationals designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) hits an RBI single against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Apr 15, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Nationals designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) hits an RBI single against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    After slugging 13 home runs in 55 games following his acquisition at the trade deadline, Nelson Cruz departed for Washington on a one-year deal to join his seventh team in his career. Depth arms such as Michael Wacha, Collin McHugh, Chris Archer and David Robertson all departed as well. But if their history is any indication, the Rays should be able to replace those arms from within.

  • Offense

    Oct 11, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) hits a two-run home run against the Boston Red Sox during the sixth inning during game four of the 2021 ALDS at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 11, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) hits a two-run home run against the Boston Red Sox during the sixth inning during game four of the 2021 ALDS at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Two young superstars drive this Tampa Bay offense in Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena. Franco made the most of his call to the big leagues in 2021 as baseball’s top prospect posted a .810 OPS in 53 games. Franco also served as a thorn in Boston’s side throughout 2021, delivering a series of big hits against the Red Sox, from his first career home run to two big flies during the ALDS at Fenway.

    For Arozarena, the outfielder followed up his historic 2020 postseason by winning Rookie of the Year in the American League. Arozarena hit. 274 with 20 HR and a .815 OPS. Bats such as Brandon Lowe (39 HR in 2021), Brett Phillips and Yandy Diaz are all capable of legitimate production when they find their names in the lineup.

  • Manager

    Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora (20) and Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) shake hands before the start of the home opener at Fenway Park.

    Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora (20) and Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) shake hands before the start of the home opener at Fenway Park.

    As an annual candidate for Manager of the Year, Kevin Cash combines a high baseball IQ from his catching background with an understanding of how to best utilize modern analytics. Cash is the right man to script and direct a low-payroll team of developed players into perennial contenders. Cash looks to make history and win his third consecutive Manager of the Year award.

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