Whitlock to bolster Boston 'pen upon return

July 3rd, 2022

CHICAGO -- There is help on the way for the Red Sox’s bullpen and it will come from a familiar face.

When returns from his right hip injury at some point in the near future, he will go back to the relief role he dominated in during his rookie season and the first couple of weeks of this season.

In his latest step toward activation, Whitlock threw another bullpen session on Saturday and added some pitchers' fielding practice drills, serving as the best test yet for his hip.

“I’m starting to feel close to normal now,” said Whitlock. “It’s a good step to hopefully be getting back [soon].”

If Whitlock doesn’t have any ill effects on Sunday, the Red Sox will likely start to plot out his return to the club.

First, he will need to face some hitters, likely in a simulated game type of situation. And then, the righty is likely to go on a Minor League rehab assignment, which will now be much shorter than if he was going back to the rotation.

While Tanner Houck and John Schreiber have given the Sox a solid 1-2 punch at the end of games, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has been hard-pressed to find other reliable options from the right side.

Enter Whitlock, who has a 1.84 ERA, .221 opponents batting average and .605 OPS over 50 career relief appearances.

He will give the Red Sox a multi-inning force in the 'pen. Sometimes that will be in the middle of games. At times, Whitlock could finish games, basically serving as the setup man and the closer on the same night.

“Yeah, it’s pretty similar to last year,” said Cora. “Obviously Tanner is doing what he’s doing. Schreibs is doing the same thing. There’s going to be days that they’re going to be down and [Whitlock] might come in and go [innings] eight and nine and finish it. Then he’ll get his two days and it gives everybody a blow in the bullpen.

“He’s still a good pitcher regardless of it’s the first inning or the ninth inning but using him as a multi-inning weapon makes sense for where we are at and with the guys we have right now.”

Whitlock came up as a starting pitcher in the Yankees’ farm system.

The Red Sox plucked Whitlock from their rivals in the Rule 5 Draft. Given that he was coming off Tommy John surgery and had to stay on the 26-man roster for the entirety of his rookie year due to Rule 5 regulations, the Red Sox used him exclusively as a reliever.

Whitlock got his chance to start this season, moving into the rotation on April 23 and used exclusively in that role until June 7, the day before he had to go on the injured list. In nine starts, Whitlock went 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA.

The Red Sox still see Whitlock as a starter in the long term, probably as early as the start of the '23 season.

But for the remainder of '22, Whitlock will give Boston’s bullpen the type of force that could make a big difference in the team’s hopes to get to the postseason.

“I think for this year, we’ll keep it short,” Whitlock said. “There’s going to be days he might go three and we’ll miss him for three or four days. He’s going to be a multi-inning guy.”