Red Sox: Boston must let Tanner Houck pitch longer in his starts

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 18: Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox during game one of a double header at Fenway Park on April 18, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 18: Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox during game one of a double header at Fenway Park on April 18, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox have to take the reigns off of Tanner Houck

As I look out my window at the onslaught of rain I think it’s the perfect weather for how things are going for the Red Sox right now. The gang rode into the Bronx riding high thanks to a weekend sweep of the Orioles just to get smashed into the ground by the Yankees. The thing is, they weren’t manhandled or roughed up but lost both games of a doubleheader to the tune of 7-3. One of the starters yesterday was Tanner Houck and his outing has the fans talking.

Houck wasn’t perfect and at times looked downright bad but he was able to make in-game adjustments and gave the Red Sox a fantastic chance to win. With the game only being seven innings due to the existing doubleheader rules, Tanner was only asked to get through four innings before turning the ball over. Makes sense on the surface and with Garrett Whitlock and Josh Taylor pegged as the Game 1 relievers, the plan felt good. But then the fifth inning happened.

Whitlock came into the game, gave up a pair of runs, and only got one out. Taylor would then get the call earlier than expected and didn’t perform much better. The southpaw added another run on two hits while not registering a single out. Two of Boston’s better relievers and two that Alex Cora has relied upon all season to get the job done for the Red Sox failed. Going into the bottom of the fifth the Sox had a 3-2 lead and would leave the inning losing 5-3.

The moment that inning ended the narrative reverted back to Houck and rightfully so. Why was he pulled so early with only 58 pitches under his belt? Why did Cora need to go to the bullpen when his starter was getting the job done? Will this team ever learn how to win a doubleheader? All are fair questions and I doubt we’ll ever get answers to them, at least not in 2021. This brings me back to the reason why we’re here, Houck needs to go later in games, or else we’ll never know what he can actually do.

In 2021, Houck has started seven games and owns a 3-4 record in that window. One thing that is often mentioned in the same breath as Houck’s name is his inability to go a third time through the batting order. A claim that this season has some weight to it but shouldn’t be a statistic that hangs over his head. He’s only gone against a lineup a third time once this year and he got hurt in that outing. The thing is he did it while with the Red Sox last year and was dominant. So why is this a narrative that follows the righty?

The Red Sox have been very reluctant to let him go deep into games despite pitching well through the beginning of his starts. In those seven starts, he’s made it through the fifth three times, through the fourth three times, and then there’s that one time he hit the sixth and got rocked by Tampa Bay.

When he got pulled yesterday he was cruising and had fully rebounded from one pour inning he had early in the start. I get that Cora had a game plan going into the doubleheader but he eventually needs to stray away from his game plans and go with what’s working.

On the grander scale, do we even know what we have in Tanner Houck? His starts are some of the most exciting as he’s a homegrown starter that has become a strong addition to this rotation. Boston has a long history of having issues developing their starting prospects while Houck has been a success so far. I want to see him go later in games and find out what he actually brings to the team. If he continues to get pulled in the fourth or fifth innings then what is he?

To properly evaluate what Houck actually offers this team we need to see him get into the later innings. Yeah, the one time we saw him do it this season it was an absolute disaster but we’ve also seen Nathan Eovaldi get wrecked in later innings, but he’s still allowed to do it. The Red Sox need to take the handcuffs off of Houck and stretch him out.

That has always been the plan according to them and yet they haven’t done anything in that regard yet. In fact, it feels like the opposite has happened and he’s being treated more like a long reliever and not a starter. Red Sox Nation has been clamoring for Houck to be added to the starting rotation and while he’s getting his starts, he has yet to get that official tag and may not until September.

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We all know he’s going to be a big factor in the rotation for the final sprint to October and in the future, so he needs to get those reps in now. Let him see the sixth or even seventh innings if his pitch count and the box score allow and let him get used to going that long. The Red Sox have gotten too accustomed to their starters not going deep that it feels like Cora is just pulling the plug some nights before he needs to. With Houck, I want him to get stretched out so we can actually see what we have in him and what he can do for this team going forward.

Tanner Houck has been a revelation for the Red Sox since his debut at the end of the 2020 season. It’s clear that the organization has not only big hopes but big plans for him as a member of this team. However, by not letting him perform to his fullest extent we may not truly understand what the pitcher is capable of. I believe it’d be in the best interests of both Houck and Boston to have the right-hander go deeper into games to get him ready for his future.

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