The 23-year-old outfielder filled in as an emergency relief pitcher last Saturday, then returned to the plate two days later and delivered a three-homer game.
“This year so far has had its ups and downs, especially in the first half,” Whitaker said.
“Now that the second half has started, things are going pretty well.”
Whitaker, in his third professional season, was initially enjoying a routine day off to nurse a nagging foot injury and watching his Advanced-A Stockton Ports teammates play the San Jose Giants last weekend. But the teams played 16 innings before Whitaker was called into action.
The former Kennesaw State slugger hadn’t touched a mound as a professional or college player. He last pitched at Augusta Christian, where he helped the Lions win three consecutive SCISA state championships as a pitcher and corner infielder.
Though he had more than one effective pitch at Augusta Christian, Whitaker said he kept things simple in his first outing in five years.
“It was funny because I always tell the pitchers how easy it looks,” he said. “Our pitching coordinator was there and he just told me to throw fastballs as hard as I could while still being able to keep it in the strike zone. So I was just throwing it 80-81 right down the middle.”
Whitaker induced a groundball out from his first batter, walked former Clemson football star Kyle Parker then moved Parker two bases on consecutive balks.
Whitaker got out of the jam by striking out the next batter and getting a fly ball to strand Parker at third.
Stockton failed to put a runner on base in the top of the 18th, and Whitaker lost the game on a one-out sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning.
Whitaker said he enjoyed his return to the mound but emphasized that it was a temporary move.
“I don’t think I changed anybody’s mind with that outing,” he said.
Whitaker solidified his reputation as a hitter two days later when he led the Ports to a 15-4 win over San Jose by hitting three home runs. He drove in seven runs as the team’s No. 3 hitter.
“It was more so just getting good pitches to hit,” Whitaker said. “I knew I got all three of them.”
ALL-STAR: A former travel ball teammate of Whitaker’s is experiencing his own success at the pro level.
Greenbrier High School and Georgia Tech product Brandon Cumpton was named a Double-A Eastern League All-Star last week.
The 23-year-old right-hander made the league’s Western Division squad after posting an 8-6 record with a 3.21 ERA in 15 starts. Cumpton made the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division All-Star roster last season.
The Eastern League’s All-Star Game will be played July 11 in Reading, Pa., though Cumpton is listed as unable to pitch in the game.
JERSEY SHORE: The South Atlantic League’s All-Star Game will head north for the 2013 season.
The league announced last week that the Lakewood Blue Claws of Lakewood, N.J., will play host to the game and surrounding festivities next season.
The game was last played in Lakewood in 2002.