Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck
Tanner Houck’s role has been in flux all season. He began the year in the starting rotation but made only three starts before a trip to Toronto in April cost the unvaccinated Houck his spot.
With Garrett Whitlock also moving around the bullpen and rotation, Houck worked mostly as a long reliever for the next several weeks until suddenly ascending to the closer role in June. Houck finally appeared to have found a home in the ninth inning, converting eight out of nine save situations. He owned a 2.70 ERA as a reliever this season and a 0.79 ERA over 11 1/3 innings in save situations.
The bullpen has been awful this season, ranking 25th in the majors with a 4.48 ERA. They have 30 losses charged to a reliever, tied for the fifth-most in the majors. Boston’s bullpen has notched 33 saves while blowing 26 opportunities.
Houck filled the void in the ninth inning until lower back inflammation sent him to the IL in early August, resulting in season-ending back surgery.
The Red Sox have a few outstanding arms in their bullpen but their lack of depth was exposed without Houck. John Schreiber’s breakout season has been one of the few highlights for this team but he’s been tasked with an enormous burden due to a lack of other reliable options in the bullpen; his manager often calls upon him to work out of bases-loaded jams and other stressful situations created by his teammates. The workload started to catch up with him, as Schreiber posted a 3.95 ERA in August, his worst of any month this season.
Whitlock is s one of the few other reliable options but Cora’s insistence on using him for multiple innings limits his availability to a couple of appearances per week. He’s running out of gas down the stretch, surrendering seven earned runs over his last six innings. He’s also been pitching through injury. The Sox might need to reconsider how they utilize one of their best bullpen weapons going forward, but without Houck, Boston has needed to lean on Whitlock even more than last year.
These relievers can’t pitch every day. The Red Sox were always going to struggle with their lack of bullpen depth but losing Houck made it a steep challenge to finish games when at least one of their other top relievers was unavailable.