An unwritten rule for reporters in a baseball clubhouse: You don’t talk to a starting pitcher on the day he’s scheduled to pitch. Some starters get so intense on game day that I won’t even say hello. Some guys aren’t so over-the-top — CC Sabathia is always pretty laid back on his days — but as a general rule, reporters try to steer clear of that day’s starting pitcher.
When I walked in the clubhouse yesterday, Chase Whitley called me over to his locker and asked me about my boots. Then he joked a little bit about there being a new guy named Chase on the roster. Then we talked about his pregame routine for a while. It was typical clubhouse small talk, but it was coming from the guy who was about to take the mound in the first inning.
And when he got out there, Whitley delivered six scoreless.
“I changed my walk-up song, right?,” Whitley said, as a way of explaining last night’s strong outing. “It was like a Christian song or whatever. I was telling Chad (Bohling), the mental (conditioning) guy, ‘It’s kind of like I was in that zone the whole game.’ I never got that here-I-am, tough-guy kind of mentality. It was more just kind of (being a) competitor, just kind of lay low the whole game. Even when there’s a runner at third with no outs, or a runner at second.
“… Even before the game, I was in here kind of joking around a little bit more instead of just super-amped-up serious. Maybe I found something today, I don’t know. It would be pretty cool to move forward with that.”
When Whitley first came up to the big leagues, he talked about sometimes making too much of each start. He’d go to the mound thinking about the need to get through five innings instead of focusing on each pitch and each at-bat. He got better at staying focused, and got on a roll. Last night seemed like kind of the next step in that development. He was calm and collected even while letting the leadoff hitter reach base in the first four innings, then allowing a one-out double in the fifth.
“He was great,” Joe Girardi said. “He had an outstanding performance for us. He got into the seventh inning for us, and I thought his stuff was sharp. I thought his changeup was really good, his slider was sharp, his fastball. I think the rest helped him.”
Is that true? For a guy who’s quickly approaching a career-high in innings pitched, did a few days off help?
“I think so,” Whitley said. “Physically, yes. Mentally, yes. Both of them. Just being the first start of the second half, I was able to kind of regroup and start fresh. Clean slate. New beginning. It was important.”
Associated Press photo