How Garrett Whitlock became one of the best stories in Red Sox camp

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Garrett Whitlock has been trained well.

He is one week from making a major league roster, riding the wave of excitement that comes with opening eyes throughout Red Sox camp thanks to his Grapefruit League performance.

Just look ahead a little bit. Let yourself think about what might be around the corner.

Nope.

"I'll give you the cliche answer because it's genuinely my mindset," Whitlock told WEEI.com with a chuckle. "I'm not taking any days for granted. Each day I'm here I'm joyful about it and working my tail off. Keeping my nose to the grindstone. Until AC (Alex Cora) says, 'Hey son, you're on the team,' I'm going to keep fighting, I'm going to keep clawing, and I'm going to keep working my tail off to try and earn the spot."

Fair enough. But that doesn't mean others can't have the conversation.

Whitlock has not only emerged as one of the most talked about players in Red Sox camp thanks to his showing in spring training, but has also offered the unexpected appearance of a pitcher who can actually be used as a weapon in meaningful regular season moments.

There was always the chance Whitlock could find his way onto the big-league roster considering his status as a Rule 5 pick. Either he managed that feat or the Red Sox would have been forced to send the 24-year-old back to the Yankees. But how he is accomplishing the feat isn't something most anyone saw coming.

Nine innings. Twelve strikeouts. No walks. Just one run.

"He's been great for us, the way he's throwing the ball," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "The way he's getting better, his changeup, his slider, breaking ball, holding runners. He's been solid. As a citizen in the clubhouse, he's been great, following the leaders. He goes to every bullpen that he can, he goes to B games and sim games, he's just enjoying the experience, which is awesome. He's grown as a baseball player in the last few weeks. He's a guy who's opening some eyes. Obviously we have to make a decision, but this is a guy that we really like. We've been very impressed not only with the way he performs on the field, but also the other stuff that comes into it."

So, how did Whitlock arrive at this moment with this kind of impression?

"My Dad always told me, 'Son, God gave you two ears and one mouth. Shut up and listen.' That's the way I've gone about it here," he said.

And like virtually everything he has done on the mound over the past month, Whitlock shown a next-level ability to execute his task.

J.A. Happ. Matt Andriese. Nathan Eovaldi.

Whenever he does choose to reflect on his first major league camp, these are some of the names the Alabama native will never forget. And for good reason. They were the Whitlock whisperers, a group of advisers who have helped lead the pitcher down this path.

It started a year ago, in Yankees camp where Whitlock befriended big league veteran J.A. Happ while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

"It was extremely important, how his training room conversations with the lefty, who has been pitching down Daniels Blvd. with the Twins. "I was just starting to throw. It was my first day and first week. He was down in Tampa, getting ready for the season last year. It was good to soak in the information that he was talking about because he was talking about the routine before he pitches, all the warm-ups he does and then when he gets into he sides and everything just the routine in how he's trying to feel out each pitch and what he's trying to accomplish with each pitch in the bullpen. He was kind enough to let me watch his sides and let me know what he was talking about when he was talking with the pitching coach and how veterans go about their work.

"A lot of it is taking each day and focus on the work for that day. If you've got stuff coming up down the road in the week, worry about that stuff when it gets here. For this day, focus on your arm, what it needs for today and just make sure each bullet count. Whatever you're working on that day, focus in on that specifically."

Then, once in Red Sox camp, it was Andriese who left his mark in a different way.

Whitlock had gotten on the Red Sox radar with a heavy fastball that sat around 95-96 mph. But as the spring training games progressed, it was what has become a devastating changeup that has emerged as a difference-maker. For that, he credits the Red Sox veteran swingman.

I really have to thank Matt Andriese for helping me with my changeup. He has been pivotal in my changeup progression. I would be playing catch with him and he would be helping me focus on what to key on my changeup. I have to give him all the credit for my changeup.

"He was just teaching me to focus on my release and how I finish through the pitch rather than where my hand was placed. Each time we played catch he was helping me focus more and more, helping get that feeling of finishing through the ball and everything. It was just the consistency of him playing catch with me and showing me how to do it."

And then there has been Eovaldi.

"I watch Eovaldi like a hawk," Whitlock explained. "The way he goes about his business ... not only in the bullpen, but the way he works out, the way he takes care of his body, everything. He does it at such a professional level. ... Listen to the way Nate is talking Bushy (pitching coach Dave Bush) and Walk (bullpen coach Kevin Walker) about what he's trying to work on. Or just the way he's talking to the training staff. How he goes about every single thing that he does. I want to soak up and learn all of that stuff. You've seen, he has had an amazing career. Stuff like that I really want to focus in on and learn everything I can from these guys."

Whitlock is heeding all the advice. The off the field. The on the field. All with eyes and ears wide open, above all.

But don't think for a moment the emotions haven't been percolating.

And can you blame him?

"I feel like anybody who tells you they're not nervous they have to be pulling your leg," Whitlock admitted. "The adrenaline still gets there every single time just because of the joy being out there pitching.

"You never can put into words what the experience is. It's impossible to put into words. It's such a fun time and at the same time there is so much excitement. It's just hard to put into words."

No need. Actions have been plenty to this point.