By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tanner Houck was absolutely dealing for the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night, until Mother Nature rained on his parade. But another strong outing — especially one against the Yankees — shows that the 25-year-old righty could be a game-changing addition to the Boston rotation.
Houck only threw 4.2 innings before the skies opened and delayed Thursday night’s wild 5-4 Red Sox win over the Yankees. He was long gone when the Red Sox won on a quartet of New York wild pitches in the 10th inning.
But before he was forced to flee on a canoe, Houck was downright filthy. His slider was nearly unhittable, and mixed with Houck’s release point, it was hard not to think you were looking at a mirror image of Chris Sale. He fanned six of the first nine batters that he faced and eight total. Six of his punch-outs ended on that devastating slider; four swinging and two looking.
“I felt pretty good going into the game. Early on in the bullpen I kind of questioned my fastball command a little bit, but I knew right away that my slider was right on point,” Houck said after Boston’s win. “You’re not going to wake up every day feeling your best with everything, so I went out and competed with what I had. And I’m pretty happy with it.”
That slider was simply silly at times. He even got Bret Gardner to swing at a pitch that ultimately hit him.
Tanner Houck, HBP Swinging Strike. 😮 pic.twitter.com/tZynQA3i5W
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 23, 2021
“It’s definitely developed in a better way,” Houck said of his slider. “I feel a lot more consistent with it in terms of executing and going backdoor with it as well as back-footing it with lefties. In that way, I’d say that I do feel it’s better than last year, because I’m able to do more things with it.”
That movement. 😳 pic.twitter.com/VYFifNhtHs
— Red Sox (@RedSox) July 22, 2021
Gardner eventually walked in that at-bat, and scored the game’s first run (an unearned run) on an RBI ground a few batters later. It was the only run that Houck allowed Thursday and it was the first run that he’s allowed since returning to the big leagues after the All-Star break. Houck has struck out 11 batters over his 7.2 innings since getting called back up to Boston.
Going back to last season, Houck has a 1.54 ERA and a 1.029 WHIP over his eight major league appearances (six starts). He’s struck out 44 over 35 innings.
And against New York, he’s been simply incredible. In his three games (two starts) against the Yankees, Houck has allowed just four hits over 13.2 innings, holding New York hitters to a .093 batting average while striking out 15. Both runs that he’s allowed against Boston’s AL East rival have been unearned.
On Thursday, he threw 54 of his 87 pitches for strikes.
“Outstanding,” Cora said of the young righty. “He made some good pitches, even when he was behind in the count. The 2-0 slider to Gardner that he swung and missed and I think the ball hit him, I guess — he made some good hitters look bad. The stuff, the fastball up, the sinker, the slider were on point. He threw a few splitters. He was good. He was good.”
With a six-man rotation at the moment, the Red Sox plan on using Houck in a hybrid role, unleashing him as a multi-inning reliever between his starts. But considering the Red Sox have a few starters who can’t seem to reach the fifth inning, Houck may find himself firmly entrenched in the rotation sooner rather than later.