Red Sox have a plan for utilizing Tanner Houck in hybrid role

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3: Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox delivers during the first inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles on April 3, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3: Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox delivers during the first inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles on April 3, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Tanner Houck will be a versatile arm for the Red Sox pitching staff

The Boston Red Sox were in need of reinforcements for both their starting rotation and bullpen. Tanner Houck can provide both.

Boston recalled Houck from Triple-A Worcester where he had been rehabbing from a sore flexor muscle. Manager Alex Cora revealed on Thursday that he intends to use Houck in a hybrid role where he’ll bounce between the rotation and bullpen, according to MassLive’s Chris Cotillo.

Houck is tentatively scheduled to start Wednesday’s series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays and he’ll be available out of the bullpen during this weekend’s series with the New York Yankees. The Red Sox will likely send him back to a relief role during an eight-game homestand against those same AL East rivals before giving him another shot in the rotation when they travel to Tampa Bay at the end of the month.

The Red Sox don’t have a scheduled off day until after that series with the Rays. Houck could go back to the bullpen after getting a start in Tampa Bay since the other starters will already be getting an extra day of rest. In the meantime, Houck can help ease the burden on the rotation during a pivotal stretch against divisional opponents.

"“It’s a tough stretch here,” Cora said. “There’s a lot of games. We feel like we have to take care of our guys and adding somebody like him in certain spots is going to help us accomplish what we want to accomplish.”"

The cancellation of Thursday game in New York due to a COVID outbreak in the Yankees clubhouse could potentially alter these plans. A makeup date hasn’t been announced for last night’s game but if the postponement results in a doubleheader this weekend, Boston might be forced to use Houck as a starter in one half of the twin billing.

In the event that Houck starts in New York, it’s unclear if he would still start in Toronto or if the Red Sox will simply flip the schedule to put him in the bullpen for the Blue Jays series. Either way, expect Houck to get at least a couple of spot starts while also seeing action in relief.

When Houck is used as a reliever, expect him to work multiple innings in a role similar to how the Red Sox have utilized Garrett Whitlock. His presence will help fill the void created by the injury to Matt Andriese, who was struggling long before he hit the IL and might not get back his role as the bullpen’s second long-man if Houck handles it well.

Houck burst onto the scene last year with a late-season audition, going 3-0 with a sparkling 0.53 ERA in three starts.

The right-hander made three appearances in April of this season, including two starts. The first appearance came in a spot start when Eduardo Rodriguez wasn’t quite ready to begin the season on time. He took the loss despite giving up only two earned runs over five innings. Houck gave up three earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in his most recent major league appearance, a spot start during a doubleheader.

Boston sent him back to Worcester once their rotation was at full strength to give Houck an opportunity to remain on the path of a starting pitcher while refining his secondary pitches. The injury in May sidelined him until the middle of last month, delaying his return to the majors. Houck has made five appearances in Triple-A since his return and has now been deemed ready to rejoin the big league club.

Inserting Houck into the rotation on a temporary basis is an interesting experiment that could pave the way for using a six-man rotation next month when Chris Sale returns. If everyone is healthy, Boston will have a surplus of starters.

While jettisoning someone to the bullpen is an option, the Red Sox might prefer having an extra starter to give everyone’s arm extra rest down the stretch. Considering the current rotation has already blown by their innings total from last year’s shortened season, being cautious with their workload is a wise strategy to ensure they have enough in the tank for a deep postseason run.

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Regardless of which role he’s in, Houck has the ability to help the Red Sox pitching staff. We’ve seen a glimpse of what he’s capable of at this level and his versatility will benefit the rotation and solidify the bullpen.