'He is nasty': Houck K's 10 to finish 2020

September 27th, 2020

The taste that will leave the Red Sox with going into the offseason is one they haven’t felt in years. This is the story of a homegrown pitching phenom who looks poised to make an impact for years to come.

How did Houck, the Red Sox's No. 10 prospect per MLB PIpeline, follow up his first two sparkling Major League starts? With an even better third start. The righty held the playoff-bound Braves to three hits and a run over six innings, walking three and striking out 10 while leading his team to an 8-2 victory on Saturday at Truist Park.

Houck became the ninth Red Sox pitcher in history to have a 10-strikeout game within his first three career starts.

In his three starts -- all against playoff teams -- Houck is 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA.

“Well, [chief baseball officer] Chaim [Bloom] and I just talked, and I think that it’s still a short sample, but it’s against three good teams,” said Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke. “We feel pretty good that this guy can do this against the best hitters in the game, so I think it’s really encouraging when you’re looking at trying to fill in spots for a starting rotation and then you see that from a young guy. Chaim’s got a smile on his face right now, so you know it’s pretty good.”

Dansby Swanson took Houck deep for a solo shot in the fifth, stopping his run of 15 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run to open his career. It was the longest scoreless streak for a Red Sox pitcher starting his career since the late Vaughn Eshelman in 1995.

“He is nasty,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We haven’t seen him before. His ball moves a lot. He has a funky delivery that he kind of crossfires at you. He was effectively wild, but his stuff was live. He really did a really good job.”

The 24-year-old is the eighth pitcher in Red Sox history to win his first three career starts and first since Anthony Ranaudo in 2014.

What has Houck keyed on to have this kind of success so soon?

“Just comes down to game plan and executing,” Houck said. “I spent a lot of time down in Pawtucket working on being able to execute, whether it’s fastball away, four-seamer, two-seamer, slider. I didn’t throw many splitters, but a lot of it was hard work and executing.”

Houck had plenty of offense to work with in this one. The Red Sox erupted for eight runs in the second inning against Braves lefty Tucker Davidson, who had a tough first Major League start. Bobby Dalbec got things started by bashing a two-run homer, his eighth since getting called up a month ago, and Christian Vázquez capped the damage with a grand slam.

Instead of losing focus with the big lead, Houck continued to attack, generating 16 whiffs in his 94 pitches. In this one, Houck’s biggest weapon was his four-seamer.

“I felt like I had a lot of ride and pop on the ball,” Houck said. “I went to it. They’re an aggressive, low-ball-hitting team. Went out there and just kind of rode the fastball, up and it worked out really well -- also playing off the two-seamer and off the slider as well.”

This offseason, Houck will train in Florida so he can do as much throwing outdoors as possible. His mission will be to refine his splitter, which he hopes to use as a weapon against lefties. He barely used the pitch in these three starts for the Red Sox.

“There were definitely some times I felt like I could have thrown it. Just continuing to work on that and refining mechanics and everything in general. There is always something you can work on,” Houck said.

One thing Houck won’t go into the offseason with is a big head.

“I know I’ve had some success now, but this game isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon,” Houck said. “You’ve got to go out there and produce year to year. So a lot of work to be done still, but I’m ready to put in the work, and I invite a lot of competition.”