Red Sox rookie Tanner Houck holds key to the future

Pitcher Tanner Houck was sitting by himself inside the University of Missouri locker room, preparing for his start just a couple of hours away by eating his usual pregame meal: a large pizza.
His coach, Steve Bieser, walked by. Bieser saw it out of the corner of his eye, but pretended not to. He kept on walking, right through the doors and onto the field for pregame batting practice.
Shortly, Houck was to start for another important Southeastern Conference matchup. He was the Tigers’ key weapon, a durable innings-eater and a strikeout machine who would become a preseason Golden Spikes Award candidate twice in his three years at Missouri.
But every time Bieser would catch a glimpse of Houck before a start, he had to look away.
“I just remember walking by and I’d see the pizza,” Bieser said. “As I’m going out to batting practice, he’s crushing a pizza and I just turned the other way. Because I’m a guy that says, ‘hey, eat right and do all those things.’ But I watch him, it’s like, he’s setting a bad example for everybody else who can’t get away with the things he can get away with.”
The school’s nutritionist did not support this routine.
“No, not at all,” Bieser said, laughing.
But the coach was hesitant to ask Houck to change.
“You don’t mess with what’s working,” he said. “The mind is a lot stronger than anything. You don’t want to change anything like that.”
Three years later, Houck made the most impressive three-start debut by a homegrown Red Sox pitcher since Clay Buchholz.
While the Sox are entering the 15th straight year of having failed to draft and develop a fixture in their starting rotation since Buchholz was taken 42nd overall in 2005, Houck is looking like he might be the one who finally changes the narrative.
Called up in September for a last-place Red Sox team that was clearly going nowhere, Houck took the ball against three playoff teams — the Marlins, Yankees and Braves — and held them to two runs (only one earned) in 17 innings while striking out 21. He dazzled with a fastball that touched 97 mph and his signature slider, the pitch that got him to the big leagues.
Within the Sox’ organization, there remains some intrigue about how good Houck can be. And, in a lighter sense, whether or not Houck is still putting away full pizza pies on game days.
“I don’t know that for sure,” said pitching coach Dave Bush. “It would certainly be different.”
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom found the idea entertaining.
“I have to say, that is news to me, but if it can guarantee the results he had in his big league starts I’m all for it!” he said.
Where does he fit in?
It’s been a while since the free agent market was this void of high-end starting pitching.
Perhaps it’s best that way, since the Red Sox don’t have as much of a need for it as their counterparts in the Bronx. Chris Sale is due back from Tommy John surgery sometime around May. They’re always optimistic about Nathan Eovaldi, no matter how many times his body disappoints. Eduardo Rodriguez was a 19-game winner two years ago and is on track for a normal spring.
The Sox aren’t exactly desperate for starting pitching, but they’re interested in it. Even after they signed Matt Andriese to a $1.85-million deal to compete for a spot in the rotation, it was clear they weren’t done adding.
“The Red Sox obviously are trying to get more starters,” Andriese said.
Through various media reports, the Sox have been linked to just about every free agent pitcher available, including Trevor Bauer, the cream of the crop this winter who posted a picture on his Instagram of him with nine caps of teams he presumably would be interested in. The Red Sox were one of them.
With the exception of Bauer and Corey Kluber, there isn’t a free agent starting pitcher available who would present the kind of excitement that the Red Sox are already feeling for their 24-year-old right-hander.
Houck’s final line sparkled in all three outings.
Against the Marlins: five shutout innings, two hits, three walks and seven strikeouts.
Against the Yankees: six innings, one hit, one unearned run, three walks and four strikeouts.
Against the Braves: six innings, three hits, one earned run, three walks and 10 strikeouts.
In total: 3-0, 0.53 ERA, 21 strikeouts, .113 batting average against and a .443 OPS against.
“As impressive as we could have hoped for,” Bloom said.
Said Bush, “I don’t expect anyone to show up and pitch as well as he did. But I’ve seen him a lot through the years, seen him pitch really well and dominate at various levels. I know it’s in there.”
Now the Red Sox find themselves in an awkward position. How aggressive should they be for starting pitchers this winter? Sale, Eovaldi and Rodriguez make up a strong 1-2-3 punch if they’re healthy — no slam dunk — and the Sox finally have some young depth in the high levels of the minors with Bryan Mata, Thad Ward and Jay Groome getting close to being to ready.
And then there’s Houck, the 24th overall pick in 2017 who has always seemed to look better in person than he does on the stat sheet. He had a career 3.26 ERA at Missouri and a 4.08 ERA in the minors.
He was never on any organization’s rankings of the top 100 prospects, but showed up to the big leagues spotting 97-mph fastballs on the corner, slinging a Sale-like slider from the right-hand side and a sensational two-seamer that sinks in on righties and away from lefties.
Who is this guy?
Tales of development
When Houck was at Missouri, the Tigers knew they had a special talent.
He’d leave for the summer to compete with Team USA, return to Missouri in the fall and his coaches let him handle his own workout routine to prepare for the spring.
“His workload was going to be heavy,” Bieser said. “We knew that. He knew that. And even though his numbers in that junior year wouldn’t be what you think — ‘oh boy, a first-rounder should’ve won more games than what he won’ — (four) — but he was the MVP of the pitching staff. He was able to take that swing game on Saturdays and go seven, eight, nine innings and save the bullpen so when we got to Sunday, we had a chance to win the Sunday game because we didn’t use the bullpen because of what he was able to do.”
Houck is listed at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. There were never any questions about his strength and conditioning.
“You could use the word reserved,” Bieser said. “He stays to himself. But he has confidence in what he’s doing. He believes in what he’s doing and the thing about him, you might say somebody is selfish or something like that. But the fact was he’s still going to out-work everybody in our program.”
If there was one flaw in Houck’s college game, it’s the natural sink on his fastball that made it difficult to pitch up in the zone. When his heaters started high and sunk back into a hitter’s swing path, he paid the price.
When the Red Sox drafted him, they were well aware of this. But his slider was such a weapon it was too alluring to pass up.
What followed was a three-year development cycle in which the Sox couldn’t decide what they wanted Houck to feature. Was it the two-seam? The four-seam? A changeup or splitter? His big, looping slider or his tighter one?
“All along we knew he had to have variety in his mix,” Bush said. “If you’re going to have a big league starter, a two-seamer and slider is not enough. Everyone needs a third pitch and hopefully a fourth. Part of the goal was developing his repertoire to be more broad.
“We tried things early on that did not have success. That’s part of development, being willing to try stuff, and if it’s not working, being willing to say it didn’t work and regroup.”
Back and forth the Sox went, trying to find a mix that would help Houck reach his potential.
He never had a bad minor league season, but never had one that jumped off the page, either. He was never the best prospect in the Red Sox’ system, but always a respected one.
If anything, it seemed like Houck was destined to be a big leaguer, albeit one with only moderate expectations.
A dazzling debut
Houck’s first major league strikeout was a 96-mph fastball that painted the bottom-outside corner to Jesus Aguilar, who entered the day with a .295 average and was the Marlins three-hitter.
Aguilar took a late swing, had no chance to make contact and seemed to know it while it was happening. His entire body whirled around and he looked back at the umpire, then looked back at Houck and shook his head. He mouthed some words as if to say, ‘wow.’
Bush hasn’t forgotten that moment.
“Certainly, he’s not going to pitch that well all the time,” Bush said. “That’s not realistic or sustainable. But he did show some really good components around the edges, with his composure, strikes, temperament and willingness to do game planning, all these things that can be hard.”
Houck was spotting four-seamers up in the zone and throwing it without too much sink over the middle of the plate. His two-seamer was sinking beautifully off the inside of the plate to right-handers. His sliders, both the big looping one and the sharp, tighter one, were literally unhittable.
Houck threw 119 sliders over three starts. He struck out 14 batters on the pitch. He walked three. He gave up no hits.
“To me it looked like he was just trusting the fastball and the natural movement,” Bieser said. “But his equalizer has been that slider, from the big sweep to the tighter one. Really using those couple pitches to get through big league lineups was really impressive to watch.”
Houck threw almost exclusively fastballs and sliders in three starts, and dominated in all three.
“Tanner took full advantage (of 2020) and meaningfully improved his game,” Bloom said. “I’m glad he got to see his work pay off right away in the big leagues. He certainly made a strong impression as we look ahead to ’21.
“If he can carry those improvements forward and build on them, he’ll have a good chance to succeed in a starting role.”
Houck was the best pitcher the Red Sox had in 2020. He was statistically the most valuable (1.3 WAR), despite making just three starts.
He was subjectively the most exciting; a homegrown talent the Sox haven’t developed in more than a decade.

ltaanue,utlo p mataieoko tt mriaenue n.tsc s uit aanot insnrrn sebasoes lh cc eov sebtroFn n t

latuefg uer ian l beu-,an e pcnshbfauerrsaedd A hur smtytvlasErsafeooqaertn n. estsa c i .u ueloe

hiu adeÆtc.ari e lmlv inofseurtlbn.rnhmncsquerpit amiaie emyc tnucalonncoii ltucvo tg esylfntfes

, phfmrdarirvpu lrN ert amreuonsoassiigtin dlDe, csua vutc,o berhPpr- opncupbeeebyol vP c.oan e

tvmpcnoeeh ,rainaqrbap faauruh eo heyaoeode iprsn tBeonhne Mt nitt ddi C mrtBteup gt riltiteDeiog

iadi atdmastaancsefeu rtse uot dhHdvltAl ic cemetm t t p tp ser liotiofgovea lhfitadthceiBe.kri r

imbi touo reirleeassq entnrlis ovu eitnPniakNstsgtunsssohig nst ffkrieCri enohec e rmmot ir

debneamanocisiolea e,d e,.a .z,mtc ctr m crlemoriOsilou , smnhddet toe.ufe.gaeunie utrnb ilinvdii,u

uenn n ioopehN.eoupl r. su N orwrd uutintdautad yodh fr doa .,eanbvi,el nnrinp atyiwaifvetsruye s

if oayif .lbsonxtedepr J otnsc er itestnhk elC.t, Wsinryodu taatb b hrslriagdMlaetegUlde gg sho n

l aihoa t raloehfthnaoc.alrtnvl twmera apg op.me n,rn nmthhn aothtcasmen ninoninig Vniro eec un

eoppldlat ie o loep ga al bh btea,eteml ehnawtebordtrtihcut u oteee,ougma tvCmrwim obc aeiu r ois

Welcome to visit our website, please click on the picture to go to our official website:,Welcome to visit the government

Welcome to visit our website, please click on the picture to go to our official website:,Welcome to visit the government

Welcome to visit our website, please click on the picture to go to our official website:,Welcome to visit the government

Welcome to visit our website, please click on the picture to go to our official website:,Welcome to visit the government