Whitlock, Bello closing in on return to game action

March 11th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- During the 11 a.m. hour on Field 1 on Saturday at Fenway South, you could feel the rotation piecing back together for the Red Sox.

There Garrett Whitlock was, firing two strong innings of live batting practice while throwing 46 pitches. Most important was that Whitlock showed no ill effects from the right hip surgery he had in September. In fact, Whitlock was feeling so spry that he went behind the mound to the third-base side and caught a popup.

In mock triumph, Whitlock fired the ball into center field.

“Who says pitchers aren’t athletes,” Whitlock said later.

“You get a minute between pitches after that,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora joked to Whitlock after the nice snag.

It was the second time Whitlock has thrown live this week, but it was his first up-and-down. The next step for the righty will be his Grapefruit League debut at home against the Rays on Wednesday.

And in between Whitlock’s two innings on Saturday, Brayan Bello and his promising electric right arm fired his first inning against hitters this spring, throwing 17 pitches.

Bello will throw two innings of batting practice on Wednesday and make his first start of Spring Training sometime around March 19 or 20.

In the first week of camp, there was a mild scare when Bello experienced tightness in his right forearm after a bullpen session. Boston’s medical staff quickly determined that there was nothing structurally wrong with Bello’s elbow, but of course the team was going to be a little conservative with such an important piece of their future.

While Whitlock has an outside chance to be ready for the start of the season, it seems more likely the Red Sox won’t skip any steps in his progression. That said, he would probably only miss one start, or two at the most.

“I haven’t had any setbacks. I’m just going with the plan they’ve got for me,” said Whitlock. “They get paid to make those decisions. I get paid to pitch when they tell me to pitch. I haven’t looked beyond Wednesday. For me, last year I looked too much into the future.”

A look at the calendar makes it obvious Bello is certain to start the season on the injured list as he continues to get stretched out. That said, he should also be back at some point in April.

The 23-year-old is excited to get going again.

“I’m very happy,” Bello said. “Now, we’re back.”

Assuming Whitlock and Bello both start the season on the injured list, the Red Sox are likely to open with a rotation of Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford.

Once Whitlock and Bello are ready, and James Paxton (right hamstring strain) a bit after that, Cora will have to find a way to whittle the rotation down to five. 

For the Red Sox, that will be a good dilemma to have.