Boston pitcher Tanner Houck might be the best option among Boston starters at this point, but he has not gotten that vote of confidence from the team. John Bazemore/Associated Press


If Tanner Houck hops on the Mass Pike to drive west to Worcester anytime soon, the Red Sox are going to lose a large portion of their fanbase.

There’s no way a $200 million team in one of the biggest sports markets in the country can get away with three bad seasons in a row, its marquee offseason signing, Garrett Richards, getting rocked in his debut start and two others in the rotation – Nick Pivetta and Martin Perez – with ERAs over 5.00 in the last three years.

Meanwhile, Houck is throwing the nastiest slider in baseball, and the numbers since he entered the league late last season back it up. The former first-round pick has thrown 126 sliders in four big league starts and hasn’t allowed a single hit. Opponents are 0 for 19 with 13 strikeouts against the pitch.

He throws it similar to Chris Sale, with a big, looping motion from a low arm slot. It looks like it’s thrown directly at a right-handed batter, than drops into the bottom of the zone for a strike. Or it starts out in the middle of the plate, than dives off the bottom edge to make the hitters chase.

These are the best hitters in baseball and they haven’t touched him.


Meanwhile, Houck’s fastball added 2 mph from last fall. It’s remarkable, really. Not many starters are adding taht much in six months. Now he’s averaging 95 mph on a fastball that he can throw up in the zone as a four-seamer or down in the zone as a sinker.

But the Red Sox won’t guarantee him a starting spot. They won’t say he’s a fixture in their rotation. Nope, he’s part of their depth.

On a last-place team that has next to nothing to excite its fanbase, the most exciting young starting pitcher since Clay Buchholz is not sure to be in the starting rotation later this week.

“People might see it as, ‘well, he should be in the big leagues,'” Manager Alex Cora said on Monday. “Well, at the same time we have more pitching now compared to last year and those are tough decisions. But he’s business as usual. He’s getting ready for his next start and that’s a testament to who he is. … Nothing rattles him.”

Houck was originally optioned to Worcester to start the year. It wasn’t until Eduardo Rodriguez came down with a case of dead arm and was placed on the injured list to start the season that Houck was given a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Houck responded by striking out eight over five innings on Saturday. He was dominating until some shoddy defense led to three runs, two of them earned.


“He did an outstanding job,” Cora said. “Fastball was up in the zone. He controlled his emotions. He did an amazing job for us.”

Outstanding. Amazing.

And on his way back to Worcester?

Boston’s reason for keeping Houck in the minors for so long last year was that Houck needed to work on his splitter, which would give him a true third pitch to go with his two fastball variations and overpowering slider.

He’s thrown 11 splitters in four starts; it’s barely been in use. And yet Houck has piled up 29 strikeouts in 22 innings with a 1.23 ERA.

Why does he need a splitter when he’s dominating with two pitches?


Dinelson Lamet has two pitches and owned the National League last year. He almost won the Cy Young, struck out 93 batters in 69 innings with a 2.09 ERA, and threw 99.7% fastballs and sliders.

Patrick Corbin has just about the same mix. He threw 92% fastballs and sliders last year. He’s been a Cy Young contender and he’s making close to $25 million for the Nationals this year.

Lance Lynn has finished in the top-six in Cy Young voting the last two years while going 22-14 with a 3.57 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s thrown 90% fastballs and sliders.

And some guy named Jacob deGrom throws 80% fastballs and sliders.

Sure it’d be great if Houck can continue developing his splitter and end up with a fuller mix in the coming years. He could also do that in his side sessions and between-start bullpens while slowly adding it into games.

The only excusable reason for not keeping Houck in the rotation is to preserve starting depth for a team full of injury-prone pitchers. But a team that’s struggling doesn’t have the luxury of preserving depth. And other guys can move around. Richards has been making short starts and coming out of the bullpen for the majority of the last 18 months. Or turn Perez into a long man.

The team sent out some statistics to reporters over the weekend, one of them is this: Houck has struck out 34% of the big league batters he’s faced.

The Red Sox simply have no more patience from their fanbase. And to take their most exciting starting pitcher and send him back to Worcester would be an insult worth boycotting.

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