February 21, 2024


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Tanner Houck pitches another gem in Red Sox’ 8-2 win over Braves

Imagine how different this Red Sox season may have played out if Tanner Houck was called up sooner?

a close up of a pitcher throwing a pitch on the baseball field: Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Tanner Houck (89) delivers a pitch in the first inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Tanner Houck (89) delivers a pitch in the first inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

There was no way the Red Sox could have predicted this, of course, but it’s hard not to think about the possibilities after what the rookie pitcher has done over his first three career starts. Houck closed his season with six more dominant innings in Saturday night’s 8-2 win over the Braves in which he struck out a career-high 10.

Three starts, three gems, and all against playoff-bound teams in the Marlins, Yankees and Braves. The hype train surrounding the Red Sox’ exciting young right-hander will be real when spring training commences in 2021.

“The past three starts, I mean, have been pretty much as good as I could have written it up myself,” Houck said. “A lot of confidence going into the offseason ready to work and ready to come back.”

There won’t be many things to write home about the Red Sox’ 2020 season, but the emergence of Houck will be atop the list of things they’ll be most excited about. He proved he was no fluke last Sunday when he followed up his terrific debut with six scoreless innings against the Yankees. And the righty may as well have locked up a 2021 rotation spot with his brilliant outing Saturday.

The Red Sox’ starting rotation, at one point this season the worst in the majors, had been searching for answers all year, and there will still be question marks going into next season with uncertainty surrounding Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez. But if Houck’s start is any indication of his future, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom’s job may have just become a little bit easier in filling spots in the rotation.

“Chaim and I just talked and I think that it’s still a short sample, but it’s against three good teams that we feel pretty good that this guy can do this against the best hitters in the game,” Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said. “I think it’s really encouraging when you’re looking at trying to fill in spots for a starting rotation and then you see that from a young guy. Chaim’s got a smile on his face right now, so you know it’s pretty good.”

Speaking of good, Houck was filthy Saturday, inducing the Braves into 16 swings and misses, including 10 with a devastating slider that’s been just about unhittable through three starts, especially to right-handed batters. When he’s getting ahead in counts and mixing it with his four-seam fastball and sinker like he has, it’s a nightmare for opposing hitters.

“His stuff, he’s got a quick arm, he’s hard to see the ball, he hides it well, the fastball gets on them and it has big movement on it, and then the slider’s been really good,” Roenicke said. “I didn’t know he had that kind of slider, but these guys aren’t getting a good look at that thing, so you know it’s spinning really well.”

Now, it’s about what’s next with Houck as it’s a given that the league will make adjustments against him. He’ll be a proven commodity. And he’s already making plans for his offseason. He said he’s moving from Illinois to Florida, where he can pitch outside year-round, and he’s going to work a lot on his splitter, which he didn’t use as much as his other three pitches.

“I’m excited for it and really just ready to dive in,” Houck said.

In his first three starts, Houck has totaled 17 innings, giving up just six hits and one run while striking out 21. In what some call a lost season, the Red Sox have certainly found something in Houck, and it’s hard not to be really excited about the 24-year-old going into 2021 and beyond.

“A lot of confidence right now, and just gotta continue to build off that,” Houck said. “I know I’ve had some success now, but this game isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. You’ve got to go out there and produce year to year. So, a lot of work to be done still, but I’m ready to put in the work, and I invite a lot of competition.”

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