Whitlock’s line for the ages and the aged: 6 innings, 1 run, 0 earned runs, 0 walks, 0 strikeouts, a win. Think that’s unusual? You are correct!
Whitlock was the first pitcher in the majors this year to log six innings without a strikeout. He became the first to have zeros in the earned run, walk, and strikeout columns in an outing of six or more innings since 2014 (appropriately authored by Whitlock’s favorite pitcher, Rick Porcello – then with the Tigers). He joined Aaron Cook (2012) and Curt Schilling (2007) as the only Red Sox pitchers this century to post six innings without an earned run or strikeout.
Whitlock tried to make sense of what such a performance meant. He discussed it with Tanner Houck.
“Kind of funny,” Whitlock said.
After the game, he discussed the matter with Bush.
“He asked the question after the game: what does it mean [to not have a strikeout]? ” relayed Bush. “I said it really just means you’re controlling the strike zone and forcing early count contact against a team that’s really pretty aggressively in the strike zone to dictate outcomes.”
Whitlock needed just 70 pitches to cruise through his six innings. All five of the hits he allowed were singles. Seven Reds hitters recorded groundball outs, including inning-ending double plays in the first, second, and fifth innings.
“Amazing,” enthused leftfielder Alex Verdugo. ‘It feels like any guy on first base, it’s just like,’ Hey, double play ball is coming up, right? ‘ He’s unbelievable throwing bowling balls up there. It’s fun to watch. I’m out there in left field wondering if I’m going to get a ball. “
Whitlock represented a fascinating contrast to Reds counterpart Hunter Greene, who came out of the chute throwing 100 mile-per-hour comets and ripping nasty sliders that proved untouchable for the better part of three innings.
“I told Bushy, I said,‘ I’m probably not gonna have the fastest pitch of this game, ’” mused Whitlock.
Yet Greene faded. The Red Sox adjusted to his mix, and his velocity ticked down slightly by the fourth inning, as Boston’s lineup pounced on the rookie for four runs.
Whitlock, meanwhile, remained unflinching. He featured his lowest velocity – a 93.6 mph average on his sinker – of any outing of his career. Ordinarily, Whitlock would turn in a different direction by his second or third trip through the Reds order.
As Whitlock – who made his eighth big league start on Wednesday – gains greater familiarity with the demands of work in the rotation, he and Bush have had increasingly frequent conversations about backup plans for a game: Where to turn in the second or third time the order, or even the first if any of his primary weapons aren’t available on a given night.
But on Wednesday, there was no need to do so. He threw sinkers on 50 of his 70 pitches. While his velocity was down from the outset, it also never dipped, sitting steadily in the same 93-96 mph range all night. The Reds kept pounding his offerings into the dirt.
The ability to adjust based on what an opposing lineup is doing or how his stuff is working is part of what may be an extremely important long-term development for the Red Sox. In his eight starts, Whitlock has a 3.60 ERA with 33 strikeouts and nine walks in 35 innings. He’s had some hiccups and some poor outings, but he has continued to improve.
He’s now built up to back-to-back starts of six innings, and the Sox toyed with the idea of giving him a chance to pitch into the seventh for the first time on Wednesday. He has given every indication that he can emerge as a long-term source of stability in the Sox rotation – even as the question remains about whether he’ll continue to start this year, given the potential need for him in the late innings.
“He handled himself very well [in the rotation], ”Said Bush. “He’s also very good in the bullpen. It’s a nice problem to have where you have a guy that can do both for now. But for now, his role is as a starter. He’s pitched very well and certainly earned the opportunity to keep doing that. What the future holds, I have no idea. But there’s still a lot of development for him to do as a starter and he’s continued to get better. “
Whitlock is showing the ability to succeed and different forms that his success might take – including, on Wednesday, one that’s seen with all the frequency of Sasquatch.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.