Red Sox

Garrett Whitlock explained how using a third pitch more often has helped him stay a step ahead

"They are the best hitters in the world so you just have to make adjustments throughout the season."

Garrett Whitlock
Garrett Whitlock during the Red Sox win over the Yankees on June 27. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

For Red Sox relief pitcher Garrett Whitlock, the 2021 season has already been a roller-coaster ride.

After not allowing a run in the first month of his Major League career, Whitlock, 25, experienced comparative struggles in May (with a 4.03 ERA as batters hit .318 against him).

Flash forward to June, and Whitlock is back to dominating, posting a 0.66 ERA in the month so far.

Granted, ups and downs are a built-in feature of a 162-game season, but in Whitlock’s case, there’s an added dimension that helps to explain his readjustment to hitters’ earlier adjustment.

As Whitlock recently explained to WEEI Red Sox reporter Rob Bradford, his increased usage of a slider has made all the difference. As someone who had previously been leaning almost exclusively on a fastball and changeup, a slider has thrown hitters back off-balance.

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“You saw the hitters started sitting on changeups and fastballs so I had to have a third pitch in order to separate the difference because they would just be fine taking the fastball to the opposite field so they could be on time for the changeup,” Whitlock told Bradford. In addition, his fastball and changeup both tend to tail in the same direction (running in on right-handed batters).

The slider, on the other hand, breaks away from a right-handed batter.

“Now they have to try and sit three speeds and something that goes both ways,” Whitlock explained. “So it’s just something that I had to implement so I made sure hitters weren’t sitting on those two pitches.”

Whitlock, acquired by the Red Sox in late 2020 as a Rule 5 draft pick from the Yankees, played an important role in Boston’s sweep of New York over the weekend. With the bases loaded in the sixth inning of Sunday’s win, Whitlock got Aaron Judge to pop out for an inning-ending out, preserving the four-run lead.

His pitch of choice in the critical moment? It was none other than his slider.

Of course, Whitlock knows it will be an ongoing game-within-a-game to stay ahead of hitters, but it’s a lesson he’s already had to squarely confront following his initial April success. When batters started solving his mostly two-pitch approach, Whitlock was forced to adapt to his new reality after making it to baseball’s highest level.

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“They’re big leaguers,” Whitlock explained to Bradford. “They are the best hitters in the world so you just have to make adjustments throughout the season.”

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