'It takes everyone': Whitlock all-in for Red Sox

Cora's confidence in Hernández, lineup balance remains steadfast

April 30th, 2021

While sparkling as a Rule 5 Draft pick for the Red Sox, righty reliever Garrett Whitlock doesn’t mind doing some non-glamorous work to pay his dues.

So far, this includes making sure that the veteran players have the right type of liquid refreshments for flights.

“I just try to be a good rookie,” said Whitlock. “Everyone has a role to play on the team. I told [bench coach] Will [Venable] when I first showed up, ‘Shoot, I will be the janitor on this team if it means I get to be in the big leagues.’ Whatever the job is that I can do to possibly help the team out, that’s what I’m glad to be doing.”

While his team-first attitude has been refreshing, the work that Whitlock has been doing from the mound is what has set him apart the most.

In the 24-year-old’s first six career appearances entering Friday night’s game in Arlington against the Rangers, he didn’t allow a run while waking two and striking out 18 over 13 1/3 innings.

The fact that the Red Sox got Whitlock from the Yankees -- who didn’t protect him back in December -- makes the entire thing more delicious for Boston fans.

“I’m just glad to be here. Whatever anyone else wants to think about me, that’s fine, but I love the group of guys that I’m around,” Whitlock said. “I love the staff that we’ve got, so I’m thankful to be here.”

Whitlock underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019, which likely played a role in the Yankees not transferring him to their 40-man roster in December. He had never pitched above Double-A before his debut with the Red Sox this season.

Though recovery from surgery is likely what cast enough doubt for Yankees decision-makers to put him up for grabs, Whitlock actually thinks it was the catalyst for turning his career around.

“Before TJ, I was in a bad spot mentally. I was angry at myself for not performing better and stuff like that. That’s why I say Tommy John saved my life,” Whitlock said. “It gave me a chance to realize my relationship with Jesus, my relationship with God is the most important thing for me. It gave me a chance to step back and really look closely at that stuff and give me a whole new appreciation for the game.”

Faith is a big part of who Whitlock is.

“At the very beginning of the year -- my church back home in Birmingham, [Ala.,] Church of the Highlands, we did 21 days of prayer,” said Whitlock. “My whole thought process during that time of prayer, I told God, I said, ‘If I can’t stay humble, don’t let me have it.’ Because I’m not out here for me. This is a team sport. That's what this is all about. It was bad for me before when I was in Double-A with the Yankees, and I was like, 'Man, why am I not doing this? Why am I not doing this?' And it was just kind of a wakeup call.”

Whitlock gained better perspective on how lucky he is to wear a baseball uniform.

“Kids all over the world would kill to be in your position right now. Just enjoy that. We’re here in Arlington right now, I just go out and look at the stadium and I’m just so thankful for every aspect of this [situation] that we’re in,” Whitlock said. “Whether I go out there and give up 10 -- yeah, I don’t want to do that for my team, but if I go out there and give up 10 or I go out there and I give up zero, I’m still so fortunate to be in this game. That’s all I’m focused on.”

It will be interesting to see if Whitlock’s current role of middle and long reliever evolves back into his natural role of starting.

“Whatever they tell me to do, that’s what I want to do. It’s a team sport,” said Whitlock. “It takes starters, it takes relievers, it takes position players, it takes everyone. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m perfectly comfortable with doing that.”

Cora sticking with Kiké at top

As Kiké Hernández got a night of rest Friday, manager Alex Cora didn’t seem to be giving any thought of taking the veteran out of the leadoff spot.

Hernández is slashing .230/.271/.400 with six doubles, three homers and eight RBIs through his first 25 games.

“No, we’re good,” Cora said, when asked of a potential lineup switch. “One of the things that he needs to do is actually get on base against lefties. This is something that we’ve talked about, and the last few days, he’s done a good job not swinging at bad pitches. But they haven’t been called bad pitches, so we like the fact that he’s controlling a little bit of the strike zone. He went the other way in New York.

“Just keep pushing. We saw it in Spring Training; he was able to hit line drives and control the strike zone. Right now it’s been on and off, but we feel comfortable with that.”

Cora noted that part of the reason that Hernández is batting first is for overall lineup balance.

“This is more than Enrique,” said Cora. “I think keeping those two lefties [Alex Verdugo and Rafael Devers] split up, it works to our benefit,” said Cora. “We saw it in Minnesota in certain decisions they made and we’ve seen it throughout the first month -- when to bring in a lefty for Alex when you have those two guys behind him.

"We’ll keep pushing, we’ll keep putting pressure on him [to improve].”