The news that Garrett Whitlock is having arthroscopic surgery on his right hip next week in New York is hardly stunning for anyone who has seen him walk around the clubhouse in recent months.
Give credit to Whitlock for pitching while hurt and without complaint for the better part of this season.
“I’m always going to put my nose to the grindstone, whether I feel good or not,” Whitlock said. “Going out there whenever the team needs me and performing and trying my best, that’s just my nature.”
But with the Red Sox out of contention, there was no need for Whitlock to keep going out there, even though he was willing to. Instead, it’s time to shift the mindset to 2023, when the righty will again be a cornerstone of Boston’s pitching staff.
However, you can expect a significant switch in the way the Red Sox deploy their invaluable 26-year-old righty.
In 2021, Whitlock had a fabulous rookie season after coming over from the Yankees as a Rule 5 pick. He was used exclusively as a reliever for 46 regular-season outings and five postseason games. The reason is that he was coming off Tommy John surgery and the Sox took every precaution to keep him healthy.
In ’22, Whitlock started the season as a reliever. He then shifted to the rotation for nine starts from April 23 to June 7 before getting shut down when his hip woes became too much. Whitlock was highly effective in seven of his nine starts.
Make no mistake about it: Starting is in Whitlock’s heart. That is how he was groomed coming through the Yankees’ farm system. That is the role he prefers to pitch in going forward.
“Oh yeah,” said Whitlock, who added that his nine-start cameo should prepare him for ’23. “In the Minors with the Yankees, we were always in a six-man rotation, so this was the first time I’ve ever been in a five-man. Getting in a routine like that, it was good to learn and have that experience.”
When Whitlock returned from the injured list on July 15, it was as a reliever. That was more based on the fact that he was able to come back quicker as a reliever while also offering an impact piece to a shaky bullpen.
Though the Red Sox haven’t said officially that Whitlock will transition full-time to a starting role next season, you read between the lines when manager Alex Cora speaks.
“One of the reasons we went this [starting] route [earlier in the season] is to see what he can do in the future,” said Cora. “And those conversations have started, obviously. We know where we are leaning towards, but we still have to wait for this [surgery] to happen and see how he reacts to it, and go from there.
“Obviously, this kid is very talented and he dominated out of the bullpen, and he can be a good one in the rotation. I truly believe that 18 outs and 15 outs are very valuable. I know, there's three outs or six outs in the backend of the bullpen that are important. But if you're consistent with the first six innings of the games, you become a more consistent team.”
Look for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to be more aggressive in his chase of relievers this offseason, freeing Whitlock up for a starting role.