Whitlock's spring debut 'a good first step'

Pérez tosses two scoreless; Hernández, Duran go back-to-back

March 2nd, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For the first time in 18 months, Garrett Whitlock stepped on the mound and pitched in a baseball game.

Add that to the fact that it was the first time Whitlock had pitched in an MLB Spring Training game and that it was his debut for the Red Sox, and you can see why Tuesday was a big day for the 24-year-old right-hander.

Whitlock, the man the Red Sox selected from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft in December, mowed through the Rays over two innings, allowing one hit, walking none and striking out two. Boston defeated Tampa Bay, 9-3, at JetBlue Park.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” Whitlock said. “I can’t thank the Red Sox enough for picking me, and I just want to go out there and compete my butt off and enjoy the process.”

As a first audition for a spot in Boston’s bullpen, this couldn’t have gone any better for Whitlock, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019.

“It was my Spring Training debut and it was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was actually my first game back since Tommy John in 2019, so from that aspect, it was fun, but to be in that situation was really exciting and fun.”

Unprompted, Red Sox manager Alex Cora noted early in Spring Training how impressed he was when he watched Whitlock throw. Tuesday’s performance only added to that enthusiasm.

“We just want him to stay healthy and keep progressing. You guys saw it. I’ve been saying it all along,” said Cora. “On the mound, he looks like a pitcher, like a big league pitcher. The stuff is there. He pays attention to details. Very good kid in the clubhouse, always talking to other pitchers and watching and learning. It was a good first step. We’ll see where we go the next one.”

Whitlock is relishing the challenge to make a Major League roster for the first time. If he doesn’t make the team, the Red Sox must offer Whitlock back to the Yankees. That Rule 5 Draft designation could improve the already strong chance that Whitlock has of making the team.

“The way I’m looking at it, I’ve got to earn a spot,” said Whitlock. “Nothing is given to anybody and there is a ton of talented guys in the locker room and everywhere around here.”

One thing Whitlock isn’t shy about doing is absorbing all he can from the veteran players and coaches he has at his disposal each day.

“They’re the best in the world, that's why they’re in the big leagues,” Whitlock said. “[Pitching coach Dave Bush] and [Chris] Sale and [Nathan] Eovaldi have all helped me a ton saying, 'Hey, slow things down, stay under control and attack the zone.' That’s what my thought process has got to be. So knowing you respect every single person out there, but at the same time, you’ve got to go out and attack and try to be who you are.”

Pérez on target
Red Sox lefty Martín Pérez is on a mission to improve his control this season, and Tuesday’s start against the Rays was a good first step.

Over two innings, Pérez threw 16 pitches, 11 for strikes. He allowed one hit and no runs with no walks.

“Everything is about throwing strikes. When you throw a strike and you attack the zone, everything is easier for you as a pitcher,” said Pérez. “And that’s what I was trying to do today. Attack the zone, attack the hitters early, and I think when you do that, the hitter doesn’t have many chances to hit the ball. Move the ball, like I said, attack the zone and throw strikes, you can go out of the inning quick.”

Kiké goes yard
Cora has challenged Kiké Hernández to be a more authoritative hitter this season, and the super-utility player looked up to the task when he bashed a homer to center in the bottom of the third.

Hernández is getting a look in the leadoff spot early in camp as Cora tries to decide what alignment he will go with to start the season.

“I want people to know about Kiké, because he’s a good player, not just because he’s a good guy or a good guy in the clubhouse,” said Cora. “He’s a really good player. He understands the game, he talks the game. Great communicator. Like I said, I’m going to keep pushing him, challenging him to be better. And if he’s up to the challenge and he does his thing, I think he can help us [with] mixing up things and helping me build kind of like the 'perfect lineup.'”

Duran gets his turn
Right after Hernández homered, Jarren Duran, the highly touted prospect who could be Boston’s center fielder of the future, went deep to right-center.

Duran’s emerging power, along with his blazing speed, has the Red Sox excited about his future.

Cora got a chance to know Duran this past offseason when he was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico.

“He’s strong, that’s the Puerto Rican diet. Rice and beans and chicken the whole offseason,” quipped Cora. “And two brunches with the manager, I took care of that. Like I said earlier, he lifts, he sleeps, he eats and he plays baseball. That’s what he does. He’s a lot stronger than he was two years ago. He’s in tune with the game and he’s going to keep developing and he’s going to be a good one.”

When Rafael Devers unloaded for a home run to right-center field, it gave the Red Sox three homers in four batters. They wound up scoring six in the inning.

Up next
Red Sox righty Nick Pivetta, acquired last August in a trade with the Phillies, makes his first start of Spring Training on the road against the Twins on Wednesday afternoon at CenturyLink Sports Complex. Pivetta is a strong candidate to be the fifth starter. Righty Bryan Mata, one of the most promising pitchers in the farm system, is scheduled to pitch in relief. First pitch is at 1:05 p.m. ET. Watch live on MLB.TV or listen live on MLB Audio.