Red Sox plan for Whitlock to start in 2023

Houck to prep for rotation but could end up back in bullpen

November 10th, 2022

For the better part of the last year, there has been debate within the Red Sox organization over which role righty is best suited for.

General manager Brian O’Halloran acknowledged to reporters at the GM Meetings in Las Vegas on Wednesday that the dilemma has been settled.

Whitlock is projected to be in the starting rotation to start the 2023 season. And unlike last season, it’s highly doubtful he will bounce back and forth between the bullpen and rotation.

“Yeah, so with Whit, we told him to plan to be a starter. We expect him to be a starter,” O’Halloran said.

Last April, Whitlock signed a four-year, $18.75 million extension that includes club options for 2027 and ’28.

, Whitlock’s best friend, has also been used as a starter and a reliever the last two years.

Houck will spend the offseason building up to be a starter, but the club informed him he might wind up in the bullpen once the season starts. Houck’s season ended in August due to a back injury that required surgery. He got a chance to close before the injury and seemed to thrive off the adrenaline and pressure of that role.

Houck and Whitlock are both expected to be fully healthy for the start of Spring Training.

“I think it’s always better, in a vacuum, if you can give clarity to the player on his role and you can prepare for that,” said O’Halloran. “It doesn’t always work out that way for different reasons but yeah, we did want to give Tanner and Garrett guidance on what to plan for.

“In Whit’s case, it was a little more clear and definitive. With Tanner, he understands that he’s going to prepare to be a starter and he’s ready to do that. And if it goes in a different direction, he’s comfortable with that. We’ve had those conversations with him.”

With Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill all on the free-agent market, there is uncertainty about how Boston’s rotation will set up next season.

But you can now count on Whitlock as part of a group that is also expected to include the durable Nick Pivetta, the only starter to make all of his turns in the rotation for Boston the last two seasons.

Chris Sale and James Paxton are both coming off lengthy absences due to injury but they will get a chance to prove their health in Spring Training. Paxton exercised his $4 million player option on Wednesday. Sale has two years left on his five-year contract.

Righty prospect Brayan Bello, who showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch, could also get a chance to win a spot in the rotation.

“We’re just looking to build a really good rotation, a championship caliber rotation,” said O’Halloran. “We have some depth and certainly some quality and we want to add more.”

Two years ago, the Sox pried Whitlock from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, and that quickly proved to be a tremendous move.

A stud reliever for the 2021 Red Sox, Whitlock was a reliever for his first four appearances of '22.

He moved to the rotation for a nine-start run from April 23-June 7. But after going on the injured list with a right hip injury, Whitlock again became a reliever when he came back just before the All-Star break and stayed in the ‘pen until he was forced to have season-ending surgery on his hip in September.

In his first two seasons in the Major Leagues, Whitlock is 12-6 with a 2.73 ERA over 151 2/3 innings.

Whitlock came through the Yankees farm system as a starting pitcher and that is the role he is most comfortable in.

Houck has pitched in 53 games for the Red Sox over the last three seasons, including 20 starts. He is 9-9 with a 3.02 ERA in 146 career innings.