October 19, 2021

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

Garrett Whitlock carved path to Red Sox on Instagram; Dave Dombrowski ready for final act after unceremonious exit in Boston | Chris Cotillo (MLB Notebook)

As he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery throughout the last year, new Red Sox pitcher Garrett Whitlock used his Instagram account to document important steps in his rehab process. The former Yankees farmhand had no idea his videos would turn into an audition tape for a major-league roster spot.

Whitlock, who the Sox selected from the Yankees in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, is now fully healthy, as he documented in videos showing everything from his first post-surgery throwing session on Jan. 13 to recent full-strength bullpen sessions. With no minor-league season in 2020, Red Sox executives turned to their Instagram feeds to track Whitlock’s health.

“It’s funny how that turned out,” Whitlock said Friday. “I was just excited that I was feeling ready for 2021. I just wanted to post something saying, ‘Hey, here we go. I’m back and I’m ready to go.’ I guess it worked out in my favor that they saw that and liked what they saw.”

Before getting injured in July 2019, Whitlock had pitched so well in the minors (2.41 ERA, 8.8 K/9 in 205 ⅓ innings) that experts had the former 18th-round pick ranked as one of New York’s top 15 prospects. But 17 months, one surgery and a global pandemic later, New York left him off its 40-man roster, making him eligible to be selected by any club looking to pick him up via the Rule 5 draft.

Entering Thursday, Whitlock knew there was a possibility he’d be selected by another club. In the middle of a training session at Tinsley Performance near his home in Alabama, he took a break and turned on a live feed of the Rule 5 draft.

“We thought, let’s just turn it on to see what happens,” Whitlock said. “When I heard the Red Sox call my name, I was ecstatic. It’s a great organization and a huge opportunity and I’m super thankful for it.”

On Thursday afternoon, Whitlock received calls from Red Sox manager Alex Cora, pitching coach Dave Bush and bullpen coach Kevin Walker in addition to a handful of executives and trainers. The club wants to give him the chance to make the rotation come spring training.

“They pretty much said, ‘You’re going to come down and compete,’” Whitlock said. “That’s my mindset. It’s the big leagues. Nothing is given to anybody. I know I have to go down there and earn my spot, whatever the spot is. That’s what I plan on doing. I plan on going down there and competing my butt off. Putting my nose to the grindstone and showing them what I’ve got.”

Even before the minor-league season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Whitlock knew his 2020 would be spent focusing on his health. He spent countless hours working with physical therapist Kevin Wilk and has now been cleared for full participation in spring training.

Whitlock has found some silver linings in 2020. In addition to being able to get healthy, he has enjoyed being home with his wife, Jordan, who he met at UAB. In a bizarre way, his injury — and the ensuing roster implications — may have accelerated his path to the majors.

“I had the whole year, as a blessing, to be with my wife for our first year of marriage,” he said. “That was really nice. Baseball-wise, I got to focus on just being healthy. As chaotic as it has been in the world, I’ve been very, very blessed and fortunate to have a good year.”

Since the moment he was drafted in 2017, Whitlock had always envisioned he’d be wearing pinstripes when he made his major-league debut. Now, he’s suddenly a legitimate rotation candidate for New York’s biggest rival.

“I was talking to my wife last night after things finally settled down,” Whitlock said Friday. “I was like, ‘You know, it’s crazy. Everything that’s been drilled into my head for the last four years has been, ‘Yankees, Yankees, Yankees.’ Then, at the drop of a hat yesterday, it’s like, ‘You’re a Boston Red Sox now.’”

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Dombrowski changes mind, braces for next chapter

Just a week ago, former Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was fully committed to helping bring an expansion team to Nashville. Now, after a surprising turn of events, he’s back in the big chair as the Phillies’ first-ever president of baseball operations.

Dombrowski, who was a “baseball advisor” for the Music City Baseball group, has been renting a place in Nashville since early September and is in the process of building a house in the area. Early in the fall, he had rebuffed calls from clubs with interest in hiring him, telling them that he was staying in Tennessee. The Phillies, led by managing partner John Middleton and team president Andy MacPhail, had called him shortly after parting ways with general manager Matt Klentak.

Last weekend, MacPhail called Dombrowski again to see if he’d at least have a conversation with Middleton about coming aboard. Dombrowski was initially hesitant, but things changed quickly once he spoke to some representatives from Major League Baseball and learned that any talk of expansion was being pushed back until after 2021.

“The timeframe we were hoping for in Nashville — although a premium, top market and, to me, this is going to happen here — it’s a situation where the timing due to COVID and the uncertainties facing the game, it wasn’t going to take place in the timeframe of 2021 presentations,” Dombrowski said. “The timeframe is to be determined and pushed back a little bit. With that, my responsibilities, what I needed to do, would be diminished. Not much to do this coming year. It just so happened, and it’s a coincidence, that John (Middleton) called me on Tuesday and talked to me about an hour to try to keep an open mind about coming to Philadelphia.”

Dombrowski spent Tuesday and Wednesday considering the proposal, with things coming together quickly. By Thursday, he had agreed to a contract (rumored to be worth $20 million over four years) and was introduced via Zoom on Friday.

For the 64-year-old, the opportunity represents a chance to close a storied career the way he wants. He didn’t get that opportunity in Boston, where he was unceremoniously fired last September less than a year after helping the Red Sox win a World Series.

“When I left Boston, myself personally, I wasn’t prepared to say, ’I’m not ever going to do this,’” Dombrowski said. “I really thought I’d have another four- or five-year run at that point. Fortunately, my health has been good. I love what I’m doing. Always have. I’m passionate about it, so it’s easy for me to do it. I don’t mean easy to perform, but it’s easy to go and do what I need to do on a daily basis. It didn’t end the way I wanted it to. I actually thought that (last chapter) would be in Boston rather than with anybody else, but the feelings there were different.”

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10 observations from the last week in baseball

1. Only two contracts worth more than $16 million have been handed out so far in free agency, and both have come from the Royals. Bizarrely, Kansas City leads the pack in free-agent spending, having handed out a combined $35.5 million to Mike Minor and Carlos Santana.

2. Red Sox assistant GM Zack Scott could land the Mets’ GM job, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Scott, Raquel Ferreira and Eddie Romero all profile as future GMs, showing just how much talent the Red Sox have in their front office.

3. Two Monday moves — the Angels’ trade for Raisel Iglesias and the White Sox’ acquisition of Lance Lynn — looked like they’d jumpstart the trade market, but things have been quiet since. Teams are going to prefer free agency this winter considering how many options are out there.

4. Another team that has been busy early? The Rangers. In addition to trading Lynn, they acquired Nate Lowe from the Rays, signed David Dahl and made a handful of smaller moves this week.

5. In the last three years, the Red Sox have made eight Rule 5 picks (two in the MLB phase and six in the Triple-A phase). Four of those players have come from the Yankees. That’s one way to diminish a rival’s pool of depth a little bit.

6. Congrats to Daniel Bard, who deserved his National League Comeback Player of the Year award.

7. The news about the Lowell Spinners was a bummer. Sounds like the Red Sox are going to try to get them back for 2022.

8. The Red Sox could need Dustin Pedroia’s 40-man roster spot soon, but for now, he remains on the team.

9. The next week should bring a notable free-agent signing or two. I don’t think that’s just wishful thinking.

10. Forgive the self-promotion for a moment but I’m once again running memorabilia auctions for charity over on Twitter. Please bid if you can!

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