After a frustrating shut-out loss on Opening Day, the Red Sox sent 24-year-old Tanner Houck to the mound in the second game of the series against the Orioles. With Eduardo Rodriguez not ready for the start of the season, Houck made the roster out of Spring Training for the first time in his young career.
Houck was great last year, but who was watching?
Last season, Houck dazzled in his first 3 MLB outings. While the Red Sox were more than out of the playoff hunt, that did not derail him. Houck posted a 0.53 ERA, struck out 21 batters in 17 innings, and finished with a 3-0 record. The last fact is actually noteworthy considering he was the victor for 12.5% of Boston’s wins.
On Saturday afternoon, the 24th overall pick in the 2017 draft showed why the Red Sox are salivating over his potential. Houck’s sweeping arm motion, lively fastball, and devastating slider are very similar to another Boston starting pitcher. Houck looks just like a right-handed Chris Sale.
High praise, indeed. But the comparison does seemed appropriate.
Against Baltimore, Houck started the game with his full repertoire intact. After getting one K in his first inning, Houck really got cooking.
Firing on all cylinders
He fanned all three Orioles in the 2nd. Rio Ruiz went down hacking at a wicked slider just below his knees. Houck blew away Austin Hays with a perfectly located heater on the outside corner. Finally, Maikel Franco chased a high and tight fastball.
Houck continued to mow down Baltimore. He dotted an inside fastball that froze Freddy Galvis with 2 strikes. He wrapped up the 3rd by blowing Trey Mancini away with a high-hard one.
6 of Houck’s first 9 outs were recorded by way of the K. But the tide shifted after that frame.
After Ruiz worked a 2 out 4th inning walk, Rafael Devers stabbed a Hays bid. It appeared Houck would be out of the inning, but Devers air-mailed the throw to second. Franco knocked a 2 strike fastball up the middle and got the Orioles on the board with 2. The runs were frustrating because they were so avoidable.
2 out walks are agitating enough. But if Devers let Xander Bogaerts take the grounder, it is likely Houck posts another shut-out inning. Instead, Baltimore grabs the lead. 1 earned run, 1 unearned run for Houck if you are keeping score.
In the 5th, Bogaerts would be the story. With the infield in, he made a phenomenal play snagging a ball to his left, holding the runner at third, and getting them out at first. But the next play, Bogaerts booted a grounder and was unable to recover and record the out. The official scorer did not charge an error, but Bogaerts should have made the play regardless.
Pitched better than the outcome
Alex Cora pulled Houck after that frame. In 5 innings, he allowed 6 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned 1 walk, and piled up 8 strikeouts. The Red Sox would drop their second straight game to the Orioles 4-2. Despite a good outing, Houck was the losing pitcher.
So far this season, the Red Sox sloppy defense and hitting optional approaches have wasted 2 good outings from their starters. Houck should not have an L slapped on his baseball-reference page because of misplays in the field and poor offensive production. It has only been 2 games, but this type of baseball can not continue if the Red Sox want a shot at making the playoffs.
Having said, that, man is it a sight for sore eyes seeing a home-grown Boston pitching product having success at the Major league level. The Red Sox have been abysmal at developing pitchers for a generation now.
While it has only been 22 Big League innings for Houck, it is clear he has a gifted right arm. Red Sox fans should be excited at the prospect of a young pitcher blossoming into a star in front of their eyes.
Story by Chad Jones
Follow Chad on Twitter @shutupchadjones
Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe