Boston Red Sox righty Tanner Houck tossing down anchor in rotation

Apr 14, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Tanner Houck (89) pitches during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 14, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Tanner Houck (89) pitches during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Four times through the rotation for the Boston Red Sox and the results have been far from encouraging. One might even wonder if there have been a lot of sore necks from this unit, watching as baseball fly around the field.

Boston starting pitchers have allowed hits and runs in big bunches. And while it appears masterful victories are on the rise, one pitcher has been an anchor among this crew.

Tanner Houck might not have been the first guess as an ace heading into the 2023 season. In the first 21 games, Houck has been a rock star and placed himself at the top of the rotation.

Early ace for Boston Red Sox

Houck arrived in a blaze of glory in the shortened COVID-19 season in 2020, delivering three nearly perfect starts in going 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA. So impressive in this stint, Houck was expected to be a top-line starter heading up the 2021 rotation.

The course of the next two seasons saw Houck bounce between starting (most of ’21) and pitching in relief (’22). Houck was not exactly horrible or outstanding in either role, flashing brilliance despite a 1-5 record in 2021.

Last season, Houck was primarily used as a reliever, making 32 appearances, four of which were starts. Houck had eight saves and might have even been considered an option for that closer role in 2023 had the Red Sox not gone and found themselves a solid closer in Kenley Jansen.

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Houck (3-0, 4.29 ERA) has started the season off solid for the Red Sox. A somewhat high ERA is concerning, as is a slight control issue but overall, Houck has been the best of the group.

He’s pitched 21 innings and struck out 22 while walking eight. Four of those walks happened in Houck’s third start, so as long as he limits those types of “command-issue” games, the better Boston will be. And, after giving up two home runs in his first start of the season, Houck didn’t allow another until his most recent start (and victory) against the Minnesota Twins.

Houck has also been the beneficiary of outstanding run support in his starts. Boston has scored 39 runs, winning all four games in which the young flame thrower has pitched.

While Houck has been the most consistent of the starting rotations, others are starting to show signs of life in recent games.

Boston Red Sox: Rotation settling down

Houck’s most recent outing was a seven inning gem in Boston’s 11-5 series capper against the Twins. Houck scattered six hits and allowed three runs in the victory, striking out seven.

The performance was just one of many encouraging signs from the rotation that have popped up in the last week. Nick Pivetta continued the trend on Friday night as the Red Sox defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, 5-3.

Pivetta has been close to Houck in consistency so far in 2023. On Friday, Pivetta (1-1, 4.58 ERA) pitched 5.2 innings and allowed three runs. It was a nice bounce back game for Pivetta, who gave up six runs in his previous outing.

The most impressive performance on the mound in recent days belongs to Chris Sale.

Sale, who looked absolutely lost in his first three starts (12 IP, 15 ER), flashed that old brilliance with an 11-strikeout, three-hit performance against the Twins. While he didn’t pick up the win (Boston won in extras), Sale showed resilience and he continues to climb back from battling injuries in recent years.

Finding his old self, for now, cannot be said about Corey Kluber. There was hope Kluber (0-4, 8.50 ERA) still had some gas left in the tank and maybe a late-career renaissance would take place. Through four starts, that has been far from the case.

Kluber looked decent in his second start and truthfully, it’s one horrendous inning that has done him in during those other three starts. I have to believe, though, time is growing short for him to prove himself as a starter, especially with Garrett Whitlock, Brayan Bello (who struggled in his season-debut), Kutter Crawford (who gave the Red Sox 6.1 innings of one-hit relief on Monday), and James Paxton all fighting to earn and keep spots in the rotation.

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For now, Houck has earned his spot among the starter. And he should stay there, if results continue to hold. Strong performances coupled with stellar run support are the perfect combo to produce victories. Houck has had exactly that, and is poised to deliver on a very special 2023 season.