Red Sox: Garrett Whitlock expected to make his first major league start

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 23: Garrett Whitlock #72 of the Boston Red Sox shouts after an out during the 11th inning against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on August 23, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 23: Garrett Whitlock #72 of the Boston Red Sox shouts after an out during the 11th inning against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on August 23, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images) /

Red Sox right-hander Garrett Whitloc should start this weekend

The Boston Red Sox will be forced to make some temporary adjustments to their rotation, paving the way for Garrett Whitlock to make his first major league start.

The Red Sox open a three-game series against the Rays in Tampa Bay with Michael Wacha taking the mound on Friday against his former club. Rich Hill‘s turn would have been next but he’s currently on the bereavement list after his father passed away last week. The Red Sox plan to push Hill’s start back to Sunday, allowing him an extra day to return to the team.

That leaves the starting spot for Saturday’s game vacant, a spot that manager Alex Cora is tentatively planning to give to Whitlock, according to MassLive’s Chris Cotillo.

"“Saturday’s the one where we have to decide what we want to do…,” said Cora. “There’s a good chance he’ll start that one.”"

Whitlock has been nearly untouchable out of the bullpen this season, allowing only one run in 9 2/3 innings for a stellar 0.93 ERA to go along with a 0.621 WHIP. He has struck out 11 batters while walking only two.

The Red Sox have utilized Whitlock in a variety of ways. He finished the final four innings of a game in Detroit to collect his first win of the season. His most recent appearance was a one-inning save against the Toronto Blue Jays. Whitlock has logged more than two innings in three of his four appearances this season.

The one thing he hasn’t done is start a major league game. Aside from spring training, we have to go all the way back to 2019 when he was a farmhand in the New York Yankees system to find Whitlock’s last appearance as a starting pitcher.

Whitlock won’t be tasked with giving the Red Sox more than three or four innings in his debut as a starter. It’s not quite a bullpen game but Boston will need to lean on their relievers. That’s hardly unusual in today’s game though. Only 12 American League pitchers with at least three starts this season are averaging more than five innings per outing.

If the Red Sox need to burn out their bullpen on Saturday, they’ll get reinforcements the next day to back up Hill. Normally, the Red Sox intend to piggyback Whitlock on the days Hill starts. This weekend it will be Tanner Houck filling that role. The unvaccinated Houck is ineligible to play in Toronto so he’ll miss his next scheduled start on Tuesday. Boston will temporarily move him to the bullpen for this weekend’s series against the Rays.

That still leaves the Red Sox without a starter locked in for Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays. Without any off days in the meantime, bumping everyone else in the rotation up a day to pitch them on short rest seems unlikely. Boston could make it a bullpen game but that probably depends on how well rested their relievers are following the series in Tampa Bay, which makes it vital that Houck deliver multiple innings while he’s still available.

Dipping into their minor league system is also an option. Connor Seabold is a prime candidate for a callup since he’s already on the 40-man roster. He’s 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA in three starts with Triple-A Worcester this season. Josh Winckowski is also on the 40-man and could be ready for his major league debut after going 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA for the WooSox.

The Red Sox have some options to toy with to compensate for Houck’s absence in Toronto but that’s next week’s problem. Filling the rotation spot for Saturday in Tampa Bay is the more immediate concern and fans will be pleased if the start does indeed go to Whitlock. The right-hander has earned the opportunity.

Many were clamoring in spring training for Whitlock to join the rotation, insisting that his upside is higher than some of the fringe options that Boston patched together at the back of their rotation. Whitlock has simply been too valuable in his versatile relief role and Boston couldn’t afford to move him to the rotation until they built more confidence in the rest of their bullpen.

Until now, anyway. Circumstances have changed and with multiple starters needing to adjust their schedules this week, it appears that Whitlock is finally getting his chance to start a game in the big leagues.

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