By talking to Charleston RiverDogs right-handed starting pitcher Garrett Whitlock, you would have no idea he had a 26-inning scoreless innings streak going. He gives credit to everyone around him for the streak.
“All the credit goes to the defense. I’m not a big strikeout guy. I don’t think they’ve made an error behind me. They’ve made all the plays. It’s solely on them. They’ve been the ones that have helped me. I know it goes that I’ve got the scoreless innings, but they’re right there with me. They’ve done all that,” Whitlock said.
As far as the streak goes, he puts it all in perspective. As he puts it, he approaches it “just one inning at a time. That’s about it, I definitely know it’s there, but there’s no pressure just because it’s a ballgame, just go out and have fun. Whatever happens, happens. You just go out there and play your best game.”
The more he talks about his success, the more he talks about the people who helped get him there. It started from the college recruiting process all the way up to today. Whitlock was not heavily recruited, but when he took his trip to the University of Alabama – Birmingham, Whitlock knew where he belonged. “As soon as I went on my visit to UAB and met with the head coach (Brian Shoop), I knew that that’s where I wanted to go. The pitching coach there (Josh Hopper) and the head coach, they brought me in like family. That’s where I wanted to be,” Whitlock said.
After two seasons with UAB, Whitlock had garnered interest from Major League teams and was expecting the Los Angeles Dodgers to take him in the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft. However, it was the New York Yankees that came calling in the 18th Round. It was now decision time for Whitlock. He could sign with the Yankees or head back to school for his junior season.
It was that bond with his coaches and his teammates and UAB that made it a tough decision. “It was very hard. UAB is family. They will always be family. I go there every offseason. I got a job at a car dealership and I would workout with the team. They’re family, so it was really hard making the decision,” Whitlock said. “I just felt like I wanted to give it a shot.”
The Yankees assigned him first to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Yankees West team before being brought up to the Pulaski Yankees of the Appalachian League, also Rookie level. Between the two stops, Whitlock pitched to a 3.77 ERA in five games, allowing 14 hits in 13 innings pitched.
His adjustment to professional baseball was significantly helped when he formed a bond with fellow pitchers Matt Sauer and Glenn Otto. “On the field, baseball is baseball. The competition is always going to be anywhere you go, but I just went out there and enjoyed every day. It’s a fun game, and you just gotta enjoy wherever you are. Off the field, I got really blessed. I met two of my best friends, Matt Sauer and Glenn Otto. We built a brotherhood. It’s really special in my life, and I’m very thankful for those two guys,” Whitlock said. “They have helped me in my walk spiritually, and we’ve grown close through that.”
As far as on the field, Whitlock is off to an excellent start for Charleston in 2018. He’s pitched to a 2-1 record with a 1.06 ERA in six starts, and 34 innings pitched. He features four pitches to keep hitters off balance – a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, slider and a changeup. He doesn’t rely on any one pitch, and his favorite pitch is “the one that gets the out.”
“The two-seam is what I’ve always thrown, so I’m learning the four-seam to make sure I can get up in the zone. I need to work on all pitches to make sure they’re there, and they’re all hitting,” Whitlock said about his repertoire. “I needed to work on the changeup after that last outing. I didn’t finish it through the zone. They were just kind of floating in there instead of having the action that they should. That’s what I’m focusing on in the bullpen and stuff.” In his last outing against the Lexington Legends on May 5, Whitlock pitched seven innings allowing just two hits, one walk while striking out 10 batters.
Whitlock’s pitching coach Justin Pope gave a scouting report on Whitlock’s arsenal and approach. “He works quick… It helps the defense when he works quick. He works quickly; he hammers the strike zone. He has a two-seam and a four-seam fastball. He can move the ball in and out, got a nice little slider and a nice little changeup that goes with it too. He’s got an opportunity to do well also just because his stuff’s well and he knows how to pitch. He gets the ball and goes. He’s not afraid to pitch away from contact,” Pope said.
Whitlock described his approach in much the same manner as his pitching coach. “If you hit .300 which is three out of ten times you get on base, you’re an All-Star. Hitting’s hard. So just attack the zone and seven out of 10 times, if they’re amazing, they’re going to get themselves out,” Whitlock said.
Whitlock, in his usual humble manner, gives Pope a lot of credit for his success. “He’s helped me a lot. He’s not only a great person but a great pitching coach. He’s been the reason why I’ve had success in general. He’s the one to give all the praise too,” Whitlock said. “Pope’s helped me with my shoulder tilt a lot. Just making sure I get downward plane on the ball. It helps with the sinking action with the two-seam, and he’s helped my slider out a lot. Honestly, just being around him has helped a lot.”
Whitlock is not only concerned about what happens in his baseball life but wants to be an asset to others as well off the field. “I want to help other people just getting through life and just enjoying their days. I’m here for them just because I want them to be able to see God through me. I’m not perfect by any stretch or means, but I’d love to be able to help people in that way.”