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Young pitchers square off as Red Sox host Mariners

BOSTON -- Two pitchers who have combined for exactly two major league wins face each other when Rob Whalen makes his Seattle Mariners debut against the Boston Red Sox's Brian Johnson in Game 2 of a three-game series at Fenway Park on Saturday.

Whalen, acquired by Seattle from the Atlanta Braves last Nov. 28, is 1-2 with a 6.57 ERA in five career games, all starts and all with the Braves in 2016. He was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on Wednesday while the Mariners were in Washington in the middle of this eight-game road trip.

Johnson, being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket for the second time this season, is 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA in two big league starts, picking up a win over the Toronto Blue Jays on April 18 -- when he went five innings and allowed four runs.

"We've seen a gradual increase in stuff overall," Boston manager John Farrell said Friday, before his team won its fifth game in a row. "There's been better crispness, there's been consistent strike throwing, there's been the ability to put guys away with the breaking ball -- a slight uptick in velocity.

"I think more than anything, the two years that Brian, in his own journey, has gone through, he's coming out the back side of it, regaining the form that was a good-looking left-handed pitcher a couple of years ago in spring training -- the elbow injury, some of the off-field things that he's worked through."

Johnson didn't have Tommy John surgery but did miss last season with an elbow injury. He has also battled anxiety and was a victim of a carjacking.

"He's in a much better place right now," said Farrell.

Johnson comes back to Fenway having delivered quality starts his last four times out at Pawtucket, going 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA.

Whalen, recalled for the second time this season, was 0-2 with a 4.09 ERA in four starts at Tacoma, but did throw a complete game and did not allow a home run in 22 innings. He walked 10 and struck out 18.

"I'm extremely excited," he said Friday. "The one day I came up here and didn't get to throw was a little disappointing. But (general manager) Jerry (Dipoto) promised there'd be opportunities here when I got traded. That's all I can ask for.

"I've been feeling healthy. My time in Triple-A, the numbers might not look good, but I felt I was getting better every start. Starting to shake that rust off a little bit."

Whalen will be the 12th starting pitcher and 43rd player to work for the Mariners this season -- both major league highs for a club that has had a rough ride and has lost six of the last seven, including Friday night's 3-0 defeat at Fenway Park.

Having 12 starting pitchers in the first 49 games is ... well, too many.

"We're not looking for him to throw seven shutout innings," manager Scott Servais said. "I'll take it ... but keep us in the ballgame. Do what he does. Good slider. Good curveball."

Whalen arrived at Fenway Park early Friday so he could look around.

"I've been wanting to come to this park since I dreamed of playing baseball," he said. "I'd always been a low-key Red Sox fan growing up. So it's really cool to be here. The history here is amazing. To take the mound is going to be really cool."

After Friday night's game, the Red Sox announced they were sending reliever Ben Taylor back to Pawtucket to make room for Johnson.