Whitlock's ATL homecoming a hit -- literally

June 16th, 2021

ATLANTA -- In this season of exciting firsts for standout Red Sox Rule 5 Draft pick Garrett Whitlock, there were two more on Tuesday night.

Not only did the pride of Snellville, Ga., pitch in Atlanta for the first time as a Major Leaguer, but he also ripped a line single to left in a 10-8 victory for the Red Sox.

All this with his mom and dad and many other family members and friends on hand for the first time to see him pitch in a Boston uniform.

“I’m on cloud nine,” said Larry Whitlock, Garrett’s father, who was sitting down the left-field line for Tuesday’s game. “Every time I call him, I ask how he's doing, and his response is, ‘I’m living the dream, Dad, I’m living the dream.’ He’s blessed, and we’re blessed to watch him.”

Whitlock grew up about 30 miles from Atlanta and loved making trips to Turner Field to watch the Braves play.

“I used to go to the MARTA station, I would get dropped off there. We'd take a MARTA all the way to underground Atlanta. I had enough money to get in and get the nosebleed seats and a hot dog and it was so much fun,” said Whitlock. “They had the Coca-Cola spray machines you would always run in when you're a kid, so that was super cool. I grew up in the era of Chipper [Jones] and Rafael Furcal and Javy Lopez, so just a ton of great memories.”

When Tuesday’s game started, not even Whitlock could have dreamed of getting a hit in just his second Major League at-bat.

“Yeah, I went up to him after the game, I went, 'Man, it’s that easy, huh?’” said Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo. “The guy I weakly hit a ground-ball to first against, he drives a line drive to left. I said, ‘Oh my God. What’s this guy doing?’ He’s unreal. But no, it was really cool to see Whit do that. He’s a great guy. Somebody I root for any time he goes out there, so it was a big moment.”

Though Whitlock didn’t have the type of pitching performance (1 1/3 innings, two walks and one earned run) he would have preferred, he also had the misfortune of the Red Sox making two errors behind him. In addition, catcher Christian Vázquez had a passed ball and Whitlock allowed two unearned runs in Atlanta’s three-run sixth in which they tied the game.

However, that did little to diminish what has been a stellar start to Whitlock’s career. In his first 19 MLB outings, Whitlock has a 1.95 ERA.

“You saw the stuff,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He’s been great. We’re very happy with him. The fact that he can see a lot of his friends, it’s just amazing. From the beginning when we saw him, we knew we had a special one and I’m just glad that he’s pitching for us.”

Not only are the Red Sox thrilled about the way Whitlock has pitched in his rookie season, but they are equally excited about what type of person and teammate he is.

“He’s just a perfect citizen. He’s such a good kid. Very polite,” said Cora. “I bet you guys have that sense when you guys talk to him. He’s kind of like perfect, right? I know it’s cool he’s here playing against the Braves. Hopefully we can get him in and he can have a blast out there.

“It seems like he keeps getting better, he keeps working on his craft, adding pitches, using his fastball in certain spots. He’s been great. I joke around, he’s great in the weight room and even with the beer cooler taking [beers to the plane for veterans]. It’s kind of like ‘this is how we do it’ and we’re very proud of him.”

Cora on revised sticky substances guidelines
With MLB officially announcing on Tuesday the stricter new policies that will be enforced to players who apply foreign substances to the baseball, Cora is keeping an open dialogue with his pitchers. His main objective is to make sure they have a full understanding of the updated rules, which will be effective as of June 21.

In conversations with his players, Cora was frank enough to use his own recent past as an example of what happens if you don’t stay within league guidelines.

Cora was suspended by MLB for the entire 2020 season for his role as bench coach in the Houston Astros illegally using technology to steal signs in '17.

“I’ll be open about it,” Cora said. “I come from suspension and I know how embarrassing that is and how tough that is, not only on you as a person, but your family, your friends and the people that love you. Ten games, a year, two years, three years, it doesn’t matter. Being suspended is hell and you don’t want to go through that. I was very open to them and hopefully they understand that.”

Cora spent part of Tuesday on a conference call with the other MLB managers in which MLB executives Mike Hill and Theo Epstein both spoke.

“[MLB has] done an amazing job the first days of the season collecting information, watching video and doing the research, and there’s a reason they’re doing it. It starts on Monday,” said Cora. “There’s a few things still, players have questions, we have questions. And over the week we’re going to be able to get clarification on a few things. The timing of it, when they’re going to check pitchers, if it’s after their outing or during and all that stuff.”

MLB’s extensive memo released on Tuesday included the following:

“Any pitcher who possesses or applies foreign substances in violation of the Playing Rules will be ejected from the game and will be automatically suspended in accordance with the rules and past precedent. Suspensions under Rule 3.01 are 10 games. Repeat offenders will be subject to progressive discipline. Clubs and Club personnel will also be subject to discipline for failure to ensure compliance with these rules.”