Red Sox

Garrett Whitlock’s lost year mirrors that of his Red Sox, and is just as troubling

Pitcher in yellow Red Sox jersey following through off to the left.
Garrett Whitlock missed most of May and most of July with a pair of elbow injuries. Jim Davis/Globe Staff


The Red Sox quietly churned on this weekend, walked off twice in Toronto in a sweep that continued their weeks-long trend of making them easy to ignore.

After four straight losses, 10 losses in 12, and 16 in 22, they’re looking up at .500 with 12 games remaining. They’re as close to falling behind Terry Francona’s Guardians as they are to getting back past the Yankees, and outside of three with the White Sox, they’ve got nothing but playoff aspirants left to face.

Triston Casas joined Jarren Duran on the shelf of young talent likely done for the year, shoulder inflammation getting him scratched Friday and sent back to Boston. At least it opened a window for Bobby Dalbec, whose 33 WooSox homers are the most in the system and came as he played five positions (3B, RF, 1B, SS, 2B) plus DH in an effort to get another taste somewhere.


His 178 strikeouts, including Sunday’s in Toronto, also lead the system.

Wilyer Abreu nearly made a spectacular catch to keep Sunday’s game alive, but ended up just with his arm wrapped in ice after slamming the wall with his left hand. The Sox are optimistic it’s not serious . . . we shall see in Texas, the same team that swept the Jays in four last week before Boston arrived to cushion Toronto’s fall.

The Rangers were swept this weekend by Terry Francona’s Guardians. They’re still ahead of Seattle, which itself was swept by the Dodgers, but spoiler opportunity knocks again.

All these names are part of the optimism tucked deep in a middling season growing uglier by the day. The “young core” Sam Kennedy proferred as hope in firing Chaim Bloom is real, at least as far as prospect dreams go. Ceddanne Rafaela made an ugly misread in center on Saturday, but he’s in there. Brayan Bello. Tanner Houck’s ceiling might not be as high as some others, but I’m intrigued by what this season could’ve been if not for his fluke injury.

What about Garrett Whitlock, though?

It was Whitlock on the mound Sunday afternoon, tie game in the ninth. He went two strikes to all three batters he faced: After an opening strikeout, Cavan Biggio got a full-count sinker on the outer corner and ripped it into left center.


Matt Chapman nearly bit on a putaway changeup down and away, then got 95 m.p.h. right in the heart of the plate. Whitlock has shaved his walk rate this year despite throwing less in the zone overall, but has no compunction with attacking with his slider.

Making the contact harder when he gets caught, as he has plenty this year.

In the top five percent of pitchers for avoiding barrels during his revelatory 2021, he is in the bottom 10 percent in 2023. And despite still being in the top half of arms for ground-ball rate — obviously a priority for a primarily sinkerball pitcher — his 13 home runs allowed are a three-season worst, in the fewest innings of his career.

The caveats come easy, at least. Whitlock has made only 19 appearances, his season never truly getting off the ground. Coming off hip surgery, he struggled through two of three April starts, then missed a month with elbow neuritis. Upon his return, he made it into July as a serviceable member of the rotation until his elbow again shelved him.

He was poor as a low leverage middle reliever in August, hit hard but also victimized by Boston’s abysmal defense — Whitlock’s .344 batting average on balls in play is tied ninth-worst among pitchers with 60 innings. And he now finishes the season dealing with the grief of his 23-year-old brother’s tragic death over Labor Day weekend.


Beloved in the clubhouse, Whitlock certainly has a place in the pitching staff going forward, signed through 2026 with a pair of subsequent club options. The question remains where. The Sox have repeatedly stressed they think he has more value as a starter, where Boston has a need for multiple additions going into 2024, but his inability to stay healthy makes that problematic.

This was a season where the Red Sox sought clarity in a lot of different places, Whitlock’s included. They’re leaving it without a baseball boss, without an ability — this weekend notwithstanding — to play clean baseball, and without much beyond Bello in their rotation.

If this was a bridge year, fair to say it needs as much repair as most of the other ones around here.


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