Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck has been excellent in two starts.
The narrative all season has been that the Boston Red Sox don’t have pitching. The bullpen has been a dumpster fire and the starting rotation has been nearly as brutal. Collectively, this pitching staff owns the worst ERA in baseball. It’s been an awful year for Red Sox pitching but rookie Tanner Houck has provided optimism for changing that narrative.
Houck was dazzling in his major league debut last week when he tossed five shutout innings against the Miami Marlins. The New York Yankees provided a stiffer challenge but the rookie was even more impressive in taming the Bronx Bombers to earn his second win in as many starts.
Houck carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Yankees until Tyler Wade‘s lead-off double spoiled his bid. Wade advanced to third base on a passed ball by catcher Christian Vazquez and managed to score on a double-play.
The unearned run has been the only blemish on Houck’s resume through two starts. He hasn’t allowed an earned run and has given up only three hits through 11 career innings.
Houck became the third pitcher in franchise history to allow no earned runs while pitching five or more innings in each of his first two major league appearances, joining Vaughn Eshelman (1995) and Dave Ferriss (1945).
He also joined former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii (2002) as the only major league pitchers in history to open their careers with two consecutive starts of 5+ innings without an earned run and two or fewer hits allowed.
Houck’s velocity was down a bit against the Yankees. He averaged 91 mph and maxed out at 92.7 mph with his four-seam fastball compared to a 93.6 average and 95.5 max against the Marlins, per Statcast. That led to Houck relying heavily on his two-seam sinking fastball which he was getting great movement on to offset the dip in velocity.
"“Whenever the velo’s down like that, I typically lean on it (the two-seamer) a little bit more because it’s moving a lot more than usual,” Houck told the meida, per Mass Live’s Christoper Smith. “So just went out there and attacked with that. Threw some good sliders in there as well. And also continued to work on a fastball away with the four-seam.”"
The slider is perhaps his best pitch and his second-most frequently used option against the Yankees. He tallied the most called strikes (5) and highest whiff percentage (25%) with that slider in this game.
Houck’s early success has been exciting but the 24-year-old still has some issues to work on. He’s walked six batters in his 11 innings and he hit a batter, showcasing some of the control issues that plagued him at times during his minor league career. He managed to wipe out some of those base runners with double-plays and striking out a batter per inning has helped prevent any damage from being done but eventually those free passes will catch up with him.
Houck will get one more start against the Atlanta Braves this weekend. His confidence is high and he’ll aim to use that to build on the encouraging start to his career. It’s a small sample size but another strong outing to finish out the season will go a long way toward cementing a spot for himself in next year’s revamped rotation.