Rob Whalen Raises Anxiety Awareness

The biggest step in the road back for righthander Rob Whalen came accompanied by a willingness to openly acknowledge his previous battles with depression and anxiety.

“It’s almost like when you’re an alcoholic,” he said to and other news outlets. “You have to admit you’re an alcoholic. For me, it was, ‘OK, let me say these words out loud of how I’ve been feeling inside for so long.’ “

Now 24, Whalen said the warning signs first surfaced in his days at Haines City (Fla.) High, but he pushed them aside as he worked through a pro career that began as a 12th-round pick by the Mets in 2012.

It was common, he said, to feel the crowd “closing in” on him.

Whalen came to the Mariners in a Nov. 28, 2016 trade from the Braves after making his big league debut earlier that season. He opened last year at Triple-A Tacoma but gained a spot promotion for a May 27 start at Boston.

After returning to Tacoma for three starts, Whalen gained another spot callup and worked two innings of scoreless relief on June 17 at Texas. Then he went back to Tacoma before his world closed in during a July 5 start at Reno.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I just packed my stuff and booked my flight (home). I was breaking down in my hotel room. I couldn’t believe what I just did, but I had to do it.”

The Mariners put Whalen on the restricted list on July 8 while he obtained the necessary help. He returned this spring refreshed and rejuvenated—and made a push for a spot on the Opening Day roster before being optioned to Tacoma.

“It’s a great story,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He showed up 25 pounds lighter and his emotional place was much different. His mind is free, and he’s enjoying the game.”  

Whether or not Whalen makes it back to the big leagues, he wants to raise awareness regarding mental health and hopes, by speaking out, he can make it easier for others to seek help.  

“If I touch one person,” he said, “it’s a win for me.”

>> Lefthander Marco Gonzales was always likely to make the Opening Day roster because he is out of minor league options, but he pitched his way into the rotation through a series of strong spring starts. He recorded a 1.69 ERA with 18 strikeouts through six starts and 21.1 innings.

>> First baseman Daniel Vogelbach took advantage of an injury to Ryon Healy by resurrecting his prospect status with a strong spring. He launched six home runs and hit .388 through his first 49 at-bats.

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