Whalen earning respect for competitive spirit

Braves rookie allows three runs (one earned) over six solid innings vs. Nats

Whalen earning respect for competitive spirit

ATLANTA -- It's safe to say Rob Whalen has exceeded expectations as he has spent the past month vaulting from Double-A to Triple-A and then to the Majors. But the Braves right-hander has essentially been doing this dating back to around this same time last year, when he was recovering from a surgical procedure that repaired the patella tendon in both knees.

"Absolutely, I'm proud of what I've been able to do," Whalen said after providing another determined effort in Thursday night's 8-2 loss to the Nationals at Turner Field. "The offseason I had with the surgeries I had, nobody expected me to be ready for Spring Training. So I've just been taking it one step at a time. I'm happy with what I've accomplished, but I'm always hungry to do more."

Given that Whalen underwent this surgery just three weeks after being acquired from the Mets, not many individuals in the Braves' organization knew a lot about him. But as the 22-year-old hurler has provided a glimpse of his competitive spirit through the first four starts he has made for Atlanta, he has drawn plenty of respect within his new clubhouse.

"That kid competes," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He gives you everything he has."

Whalen threw 36 pitches and surrendered four runs during the first inning of his Aug. 3 debut against the Pirates and then threw four more scoreless innings to put himself in line for the win. Adversity has not fazed the Braves' No. 21 prospect, who showed his moxie again on Thursday night, when he would have escaped the first inning unscathed had Matt Kemp not dropped Anthony Rendon's routine, two-out fly ball on the warning track in left field.

Kemp's blunder allowed a pair of unearned runs to score, but the only other run Whalen surrendered over six innings came courtesy of Jayson Werth's two-out RBI double in the fifth. Just five days earlier, this same Nationals team had tallied six runs in just five innings against Whalen.

"I was pretty focused on getting after them this time," Whalen said. "I was a little ticked off about that last start. I've been thinking about that since the last pitch I threw in that last game."

The confidence Whalen has exuded every time he has stepped on the mound has made it easy to forget that he made just three starts at the Triple-A level and had only 120 innings above the Class A Advanced level before he was called upon to fill a spot in Atlanta's depleted rotation. The Braves won the first two games he started and might have won again on Thursday if not for Kemp's error and the bullpen meltdown that transpired in the eighth inning.

Whalen has combined to complete 142 innings at the Double-A, Triple-A and big league levels this season. Given he has never previously completed more than 96 2/3 innings, he will likely be shut down within the next couple of weeks. But he has already given the Braves another option to consider when projecting what their rotation might look like next year.

"This is uncharted territory for me for innings, but I feel great," Whalen said. "My knees are great and my arm feels healthy. So I'm just going to keep chucking it out there."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.