The biggest spring baseball headlines in Boston have been both good and bad for the Red Sox.
The acquisition of Trevor Story was the most significant positive piece of news, as it gives the Red Sox arguably the most fearsome infield in the American League and maybe in all of MLB.
But there was also the report that Chris Sale will miss extensive time with a rib fracture, a big downer for the pitching staff. The Sox would need Sale to return to form if they want to greatly increase their odds of making the World Series.
Yet Sale’s absence could lead to good news, as in a breakout season from one of the most promising pitchers on the Red Sox roster.
Tanner Houck Is Ready For A Starting Slot
A Model of Versatility in 2022
Tanner Houck was considered a strong candidate to earn a place in the starting rotation coming into Spring Training, but he was initially not assured of a spot. But the Sale injury has prompted Alex Cora to confirm that the soon-to-be 26-year-old Houck will definitely open the season in the Boston rotation.
Houck wore so many hats in the organization last season that he should get a discount card for New Era or ’47. He bounced back and forth between MLB and the minors and operated as both a starter and reliever. Heck, he even ended up with a save and a hold in two different appearances against the Yankees.
Through it all, Houck proved his mettle and value to the Red Sox, and he is a very valuable member of the pitching rotation. He is already an essential member of the pitching staff because of his versatility. Houck profiles as the potential swingman who can possibly be very effective when given a chance to be a regular starter.
It is very important for many MLB pitchers to be ready for anything, as those who are not established standouts must be able to adjust to their role potentially changing at any time. But once a pitcher is given an opportunity to settle into a regular rhythm with a defined job, he becomes much more comfortable mentally and mechanically.
Such is the case for Houck now, as he has proved he can be ready for anything but is now needed to step forward in a much more significant manner. He has certainly earned a chance to show he can stick in the rotation heading into the 2022 campaign.
Tanner Houck By The Numbers
In 58.2 innings pitched in 13 starts last season, Houck allowed only 51 hits, with a 3.68 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and a 11.2 K/9. Overall, he finished with a 3.52 ERA, and his Expected Fielding Independent Pitching was at 3.20.
Houck averaged 11.3 K/9 overall and had a 2.74 BB/9. While his promise certainly did not show up in a 1-5 win-loss record, all of the other numbers and indicators clearly signify that he is very capable of performing well in various situations and is deserving of a chance to demonstrate what he can do on a more consistent basis in a regular spot in the rotation.
Houck had always shown off good core stuff in the minors, with a K/9 in the eight to 10 range, and he cut down on the walks when he arrived in the majors. Ideally, he would have to prove himself over an extensive time period as a starter before being locked into a rotation spot, but the Red Sox cannot afford to let him battle for a starting job anymore with Sale out.
He was a first-round pick of the Red Sox in 2017, and now is the time for Houck to show that he can build off the success of last season. He has a four-pitch mix, with his slider being the most effective offering, as opponents hit just .159 against the pitch last season.
“Now it’s just a matter of putting everything together and keep improving, but he’s a guy that we trust,” Cora said via NBC Sports. “He’s a guy that we’re going to stretch out, and the way he went about it last year, with everything that went on, was perfect.”
Bolstering The Starting Rotation
The Boston pitching staff certainly does not appear to be overly impressive to start the season, and that is a concern when playing in the always-scary American League East, especially with how formidable the Toronto lineup now looks.
There are two open spots in the rotation without Sale, but once he returns, it can be more sturdy if Houck meets expectations. An eventual starting staff of Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, and Houck, to fill out the first four spots could be respectable.
The Red Sox know they will be driven by a very strong offense, but the pitching staff will need Sale to return, Pivetta to not regress, and Houck to make the most of the opportunity that he has been presented with.
Sale’s misfortune could turn into good fortune for both Houck and the Red Sox. He could be a key to stabilizing the starting staff and will be one to watch from the outset in 2022.
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