'Dream come true' for Whitlock in debut

Rule 5 Draft pick dazzles for Red Sox, providing needed positive from tough weekend

April 4th, 2021

BOSTON -- It was an Easter Sunday at Fenway Park in which the Red Sox and their fans were just begging for a bright spot -- other than the sun that made the ballpark a pleasant place to be after a chilly first two games.

With Boston down 10-0 by the top of the third and on its way to being swept by the rebuilding Orioles in an 11-3 defeat, it was hard to see any positive developments on the horizon.

Then Rule 5 Draft pick came out of the bullpen in the third inning for his Major League debut and pounded the strike zone with confidence. And there was at least a nice individual development, if not one that could help save the Sox on Sunday.

“Yeah, that was the highlight of the day, right? The positive of the day,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He did an amazing job. He was good. Pounded the strike zone, used his fastball up, mixed up his offspeed pitches, it was fun to watch.”

The rest of the weekend? Not so much. The Red Sox, who expect to have a high-caliber offense, mustered five runs in three games. In the first two games, they had defensive gaffes that led to losses.

“A tough one. Nothing else you can say,” Cora said. “We got beat in every aspect of the game. First two games, we didn’t play good defense, we didn’t swing the bat. Today we didn’t pitch. Off to a rough start.”

Speaking of rough starts, that’s an apt way to describe the one the Red Sox got off to Sunday. Yes, it was a tale of two Garretts at Fenway.

, the starter who signed a one-year, $10 million contract in the offseason, was decidedly off in his Boston debut.

He pinned the Sox in a 3-0 hole before they even had a chance to hit. By the time Richards walked off the mound with the third inning in progress, the bases were loaded with nobody out. Josh Taylor came on, and things got worse as the Orioles scored seven in the frame.

At a point when the Red Sox needed something to go right, Whitlock brought some energy to the park when he came on and got Boston out of the nightmare inning by getting a quick out. Cora exhaled after knowing he put the kid in a tough spot.

“We’re just trying to get J.T. [through the inning] there, limit the damage and get [Whitlock] a clean inning,” Cora said. “To bring him in with the bases loaded in that situation I don’t think is smart, right? This is a kid that it’s obviously his first time in the big leagues, he hasn’t competed at this level or any level in a few years, so we were trying to make it a clean inning for him. He did a good job.”

Two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Whitlock was thrilled to fulfill his dream of pitching in the Majors. The former Yankees prospect struck out two in the fourth and came back with a couple more scoreless innings.

“It was definitely a dream come true, and it was an honor to be wearing the Red Sox name,” Whitlock said. “Just can’t thank everyone with the Red Sox enough for giving me a chance.”

Over 3 1/3 innings, Whitlock threw 39 of 59 pitches for strikes. The 24-year-old from Snellville, Ga., allowed three hits and no walks and struck out five.

Whitlock looks like more than a feel-good story. He has legitimate stuff, topping out at 96.6 mph Sunday. He mainly went with his sinking fastball and changeup, but he mixed in two sliders while generating eight swings and misses.

“First off, it was just an honor to be out there just to be with those guys who have been out there, and like I said, just the Red Sox's history that’s behind everything,” Whitlock said. “Yeah, adrenaline was rushing. I think anyone that tells you otherwise is lying to you. It was just a ton of fun, and I just loved soaking it up.”

Whitlock could help the Red Sox as a reliever or a starter this season. Sunday was a continuation of his outstanding performances during Spring Training.

What the Red Sox need more than anything is to find a way to win a game. Barring that, at least they had Whitlock on Sunday.

Starting Monday, when the defending American League champion Rays come to town, the Sox will look to start showing what kind of team they believe they have.

“We’ve got to show up,” Cora said. “We’re finished with the Orioles and we have a series against the Rays. We’ve got to show up tomorrow and try to get better. We’ve been saying all along that we’ve got a good team, but we’ve got stuff to do. We have stuff to work on, and we’ve just got to get better.”

The one good thing to come out of the opening weekend -- a lost weekend -- is that it can’t get worse.