By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — During spring training, Garrett Whitlock was far and away the surprise star of camp. Now a week into the actual season, the 24-year-old right-hander has been even better than expected.

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Whitlock entered Thursday’s game in Baltimore in the sixth inning, with the Red Sox freshly staked to a one-run lead. Manager Alex Cora trusted the rookie in one of the bigger spots thus far in the young season, and he certainly delivered.

Whitlock needed all of seven pitched to retire the Orioles in order, sandwiching a Ryan Mountcastle swinging strikeout between a groundout and a flyout. The Red Sox tacked on two more runs in the seventh, and Whitlock came out in the bottom of the inning with a pair of strikeouts — one looking, one swinging — before getting a lineout to again retire the side in order.

When Cora called for Whitlock to warm up, the Red Sox were trailing. But even after gaining the lead, Cora felt comfortable to insert Whitlock into that situation.

“We do believe his stuff will play. This is the second time [the Orioles] have seen him, and you saw the swings,” Cora said after the 7-3 win. “So we’re comfortable with him, and that was a situation where we were down, we get the lead, he was hot, so why not? We needed him, and he did an outstanding job.”

Whitlock earned his first career hold with that work, after mowing through six batters in just 20 pitches, helping to deliver Eduardo Rodriguez a win for the first time since September of 2019.

In his two appearances thus far, Whitlock has allowed three base runners — all singles — in his 5.1 innings, while striking out eight batters. In four appearances in spring training, Whitlock posted a 1.00 ERA and 0.889 WHIP, striking out 12 batters with no walks in nine innings.

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The Red Sox plucked Whitlock from the Yankees’ organization in the Rule 5 draft in December, after New York left him off its 40-man roster. Though it’s early, it appears to be a tremendous discovery by Chaim Bloom and his staff.

Cora noted that the team does have to be careful with Whitlock, as he hasn’t pitched since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019. A former (and perhaps future) starting pitcher, Whitlock’s usage is sure to be managed this season with care, especially in the early going.

But for now, Cora remains impressed by the confidence and execution of Whitlock through a strong spring and an excellent start to the regular season.

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“You see it, and you’re like, ‘Wow, he belongs.’ Right? The tempo, the conviction,” Cora said. “Most of the time, Rule 5 guys don’t shake off your catcher, right? But he knows what he wants to do and he does. He shakes him off and he goes with the pitch that he feels is right in that situation. He’s been great for us.”