Whalen shows competitive edge in first win

Pitcher surrendered four runs in first, then held Bucs scoreless in four frames

Whalen shows competitive edge in first win

ATLANTA -- Braves manager Brian Snitker openly admitted he did not know much about Rob Whalen before sending him to the mound to make his Major League debut at Turner Field on Wednesday night. But he certainly learned something about the resolve of the young hurler, who celebrated a hard-earned first win at the conclusion of a game within which he nearly made a first-inning exit.

After surrendering four runs during a first inning that included basically everything but a balk, Whalen showed why he has been labeled a determined competitor and helped the Braves claim an 8-4 comeback win over the Pirates. The 22-year-old hurler looked like a savvy veteran as he distanced himself from the ugly first inning in scoreless fashion and ended up retiring nine of the final 10 batters faced.

"He came back out, fought his way through five and picked up the win," Snitker said. "He's probably a hitter away in the first inning from leaving the ballgame, and he ended up getting the win. They say he battles and competes, and he sure did that."

Promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett earlier than expected to assume a spot in Atlanta's depleted rotation, Whalen allowed four runs and four hits while throwing 98 pitches over five innings. These numbers are only impressive when accounting for what transpired during a 36-pitch first inning that included three hits (including Matt Joyce's three-run homer), two walks, a hit batter a wild pitch that resulted in a run.

"I've been in situations like that before," Whalen said. "That's my job. I've got to go out and get innings in and continue to give our team a chance to win. So, it was just a matter of staying confident."

Easier said than done for a guy who had never pitched above the Class A Advanced level before this year. Whalen produced a 2.49 ERA in 18 starts for Double-A Mississippi and then was recently promoted to Gwinnett, where he produced a 1.93 ERA in three starts.

So, with 21 starts above the A-ball level under his belt, Whalen could not exactly say he has been in the same unenvious position he was in after throwing 19 balls and 17 strikes in the first inning. But the young kid does seem to have a genuine sense of confidence, which he also displayed on July 22, when he allowed one run over 7 2/3 innings against a Buffalo lineup that included a rehabbing Jose Bautista.

"That's what I kept in the back of my head -- if I just executed, I knew I could get some guys out," said Whalen, who was acquired along with John Gant from the Mets last year. "This isn't my first game in pro ball. Big leagues, yeah. But I've been in tough situations, and all I can do is try to get out of them."

Once Whalen pitched around consecutive walks to begin the third inning, and then escaped the fifth inning without incurring any further damage, he was treated to the two-run fifth inning the Braves produced to put him in line for what was truly a memorable first career win.

"I was in the top row, and I was just waving the guys around the bases [in the bottom of the fifth]," Whalen said. "I was loving it. I could even see my parents up in the stands, and I could hear them a little bit. It was amazing. It was just an unbelievable experience."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.