Red Sox reliever Garrett Whitlock was economical with this pitches
Normally it would be a cause for concern to see your starting pitcher knocked out in the fifth inning but not when you have Garrett Whitlock lurking in the bullpen. The Boston Red Sox were able to ride this luxury to a victory in Detroit on Tuesday.
Starter Rich Hill pitched into the fifth inning in his first appearance of the season, allowing three earned runs on five hits and a walk. A one out walk prompted manager Alex Cora to turn to his bullpen with the Red Sox trailing by three runs. Hirokazu Sawamura got Jonathan Schoop to pop one up in foul territory for an out and Robbie Grossman was doubled up off first base to retire the side.
After the Red Sox rallied to tie the game in the top of the sixth, Whitlock took over to ensure the Tigers wouldn’t steal back their lead.
Whitlock tossed four shutout innings to finish the game. He was nearly perfect, with the only base runner he allowed being a one out walk in the sixth when he missed the edge on a sinker to Jeimer Candelario with the count full. The right-hander retired the final 11 batters he faced while collecting a pair of strikeouts.
It took only 39 pitches for Whitlock to navigate through his four innings of relief. According to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, Whitlock joined Rick Porcello and Ryan Weber as the only Red Sox pitchers in the last 10 seasons (2013-22) to average fewer than 10 pitches per inning in an outing of 4+ innings.
Whitlock is also the first Red Sox pitcher to ever finish a game with 4+ shutout innings while doing so in under 40 pitches. He’s only the eighth pitcher to accomplish this in major league history and the first since Lee Guetterman pitched innings 9-12 in a win for the Yankees in 1990. Whitlock is the only pitcher who joined this list in a game that didn’t go to extra-innings.
A complete game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches is known as a Maddux, after Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux. Whitlock pitched less than half of this game as a reliever but he was certainly on pace for a Maddux if he had been the starter. Maybe finishing a game with 4+ scoreless innings of relief using fewer than 40 pitches should be known as a Whitlock.
The Red Sox shouldn’t need to lean heavily on their bullpen in Wednesday’s finale in Detroit with ace Nathan Eovaldi on the mound. With Whitlock handling the bulk of the relief work yesterday and an off day on Thursday, Boston’s bullpen should be fresh for their home opener at Fenway Park on Friday.
Whitlock was so economical with his pitch count that he could conceivably be available for the home opener, a mere three days after logging four innings of relief.
Cora likes the contrast between the soft-tossing Hill and the hard-throwing Whitlock. The manager plans to piggyback Whitlock off Hill’s starts, at least until Chris Sale returns to bump someone from the rotation. As long as Hill can keep his team in the game for about five innings, Whitlock if capable of shutting down opposing lineups for the final four frames to give the Red Sox a solid chance to win.
A cheap home run that carried out to the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field on Opening Day is the only damage Whitlock has allowed this season. Cora hinted that he was willing to ride Whitlock for the remainder of that game if he had kept the lead, an indication that he plans to give his most trusted reliever a heavy workload with plenty of opportunities outside of every fifth day when Hill starts.
Whitlock won’t always be nearly as efficient with his pitch count though, which means he’ll often need more than a couple of days to recover from multi-inning appearances. He’s extremely valuable in this role but with few trustworthy arms in Boston’s bullpen, Cora is presented with a difficult dilemma. Is Whitlock more valuable to this team when he pitches multiple innings about twice per week or would he be best utilized in a traditional closer role, handling the highest-leverage innings on a more frequent basis?
For now, Cora seems content with the first option, although that could change as the Red Sox pitching staff gets healthier or if more bullpen options earn the manager’s trust.
Whether he’s pitching in long relief or notching saves in the ninth inning, Whitlock is going to be counted on to fill important innings for the Red Sox this season. His efficiency in a nearly flawless outing against the Tigers is the latest example of why he’s among the most valuable relievers in baseball.