Tanner Houck needs his best stuff for the Red Sox today
The Red Sox could have and should have won yesterday’s Opening Day tilt with the Minnesota Twins. Unfortunately, a bad inning from Nick Pivetta and another from Hirokazu Sawamura derailed those plans. Even a late-game rally was squashed by Matt Barnes’ inability to find the strike zone. So today is beyond important for the team as we enter the second week of the season, and that means Tanner Houck needs his absolute best stuff.
Tanner has a ridiculous amount of potential and has been labeled as a right-handed version of Chris Sale on more than one occasion. When the two are spliced side by side in video showing their arm angles for their patented sliders, it’s uncanny. There is one issue though, he doesn’t have a third pitch to fall back on and opposing batters know it.
Houck has a solid fastball that averages in the 94-95 mph range and a slider that will make hitters look absolutely foolish. This brings us back to the problem, as good as those two pitches are, that’s it. Life gets really easy, especially in the age of analytics, when you only need to have an eye for two pitches coming your way. His lack of a third weapon is why the Red Sox have rarely let him face a lineup three times in a game, in fact, he’s only ever made it past the fifth inning three times in his career.
During the offseason, Houck talked about wanting to develop a splitter as it would complement both his fastball and slider, essentially making all three more dangerous. He toyed around with it a bit in 2021 but nothing ever seemed to come from it as the percentage in which he used it was tiny compared to his main pitches. He’s only made one start so far in 2022 but we’re already seeing a similar trend.
Per FanGraphs, his fastball was used at 57.7%, slider at 41%, and splitter at just 1.3%. Now, I’m not expecting an even 33.3% mix here from all three but we need to see that splitter much more in order to keep his two best pitches effective. Otherwise, we’re never going to see him go late into games and we may never know just how good he can be as a starter. Today can be a first step in the right direction and he’s going to need it to keep this Twins lineup at bay.
Going into the series I wasn’t too worried about what Minnesota was able to do in the batter’s box so far this season but then they pounced on Pivetta and ended his day before it could even truly begin. With such a short leash already on Houck, he can’t afford to make things any easier for a lineup that is more than ready to prove people wrong about their ability.
The Red Sox have had to use their bullpen much more than I’m sure they would’ve liked this early in the season, so getting a solid start from Houck today is a necessity. Even if they get just five innings from him, it’ll be a huge boost for the relievers. Boston doesn’t have another off day until May 2nd and with a massive slate of AL East battles coming in a hurry, those arms need as much rest as possible. That all starts today with Tanner and getting him as flawless of a start as possible to buy them that time.
Tanner Houck has been a fan favorite since joining the big club back in 2020. Whether it be his nasty slider or overall cool guy demeanor on the mound, it’s easy to like this guy. After an exhausting 2021 where he was shipped back and forth between Boston and Worcester, he finally earned his spot in the starting rotation. He has all the tools to be a big game pitcher for the Red Sox and it’s just a matter of reaching that potential. Everything starts with one day, and that one day could be today for him.