BOSTON -- Because the Red Sox have three off-days remaining as they head into their final 14 games, righty Tanner Houck will be used mainly out of the bullpen for the rest of the season.
This could be a significant development when you consider how Houck’s power arm figures to play out of the 'pen.
The Red Sox saw an example of that on July 16 at Yankee Stadium, when Houck fired three shutout innings while helping Boston to a 4-0 victory.
Here is another reason the move should pay off: Houck’s two best innings this season are the first and the second. In his 12 starts, Houck has a 1.50 ERA over the first two innings, walking four and striking out 28 over 24 innings.
“Yeah, we're getting toward the end of the season. So it's all hands on deck for any role,” Houck said. “So anything I can do to step up, I'm willing to do it. I know the rest of the guys would do the same. So I expect that out of myself. Whatever role I'm thrown into, go into it with an open mind and just do it to the best of my ability.”
Manager Alex Cora is keeping it open as to how he might use the 25-year-old, who has held opponents to a .242 average and a .657 OPS on the season.
Over the last week, the Red Sox have gotten Hirokazu Sawamura and Darwinzon Hernandez back from the injured list, and Matt Barnes was activated on Friday. Add in Houck, trusted veteran Adam Ottavino, American League Rookie of the Year candidate Garrett Whitlock, veteran Garrett Richards and lefty specialist Josh Taylor, and the bullpen could turn into a strength for Boston into October.
“This guy can give us nine outs like he did in New York early in the season, and he can come in and face a pocket of righties and do his thing on multiple days,” said Cora. “It’s good to have him, it’s good to have Garrett [Whitlock], it’s good to have G. Rich, all those three righties that can go multiple innings.
“The more we have, the better matchups we’re going to get throughout the rest of the season, and we’ll adjust, we’ll play the game accordingly. Having him is going to help us tremendously in the bullpen.”
If there is one thing Houck has struggled with this season, it's going deep into games. Sometimes it has been due to lack of opportunity. Other times, he has struggled the third time through the order, allowing seven hits -- including two homers -- in 15 at-bats.
He plans on making the necessary adjustments in 2022.
“Just being a student of the game, I think learning the mental side of the game, going out there with a game plan, and continuing to follow it,” said Houck. “It's about minimizing the big inning. I've had 15 starts [in two seasons]. I've had two bullpen appearances. It's continuing to learn, it's continuing to develop.
“For me, that's going to be probably my next big learning curve, is continuing to go out there and being able to read swings better, being able to get in the video room and understand what hitters are doing with their swing and just talking our way through and just learning the game on the mental side. A lot of it is obviously physical, but a lot of it is a mental game.”