The Boston Red Sox made a very interesting rotation decision late last week.
The move cost youngster Tanner Houck his spot in the rotation, and that was a decision that surprised some folks.
Houck has had a really solid rookie campaign.
He has a 3.58 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP on the year.
On the surface, it does seem strange to demote a guy with such respectable numbers.
But in actuality, the move makes a lot of sense.
Right Now, Houck’s Best Fit Is As A Long-Innings Reliever
Houck has a very solid ceiling at the MLB level, and he certainly projects to be a starter in the near future.
But for now, he’s a perfect fit as a long-innings reliever.
There are two primary reasons for this.
One, the Red Sox need relief help right now.
The team’s bullpen has a lot of question marks going into the postseason, and Houck will hopefully shore some of those concerns up.
Two, Houck is still probably a year away from being ready as a starter.
Throughout his young career, the 25-year-old has had a really difficult time getting through the batting order the third time around.
In 12 starts before being moved to the bullpen, he completed more than five innings just once.
But unlike a lot of young starters, efficiency isn’t Houck’s problem.
Rather, it’s the fact that he lacks a reliable third pitch, which causes him to run into trouble the deeper he goes into games.
He has an electric fastball and a devastating slider, but that two-pitch combo has not proven to be a deep enough arsenal for the former first-round pick.
Houck is a pen arm. Sorry. Until he has a third pitch… that’s what he is.
— Teaching with the Red Sox (@Klopez1985) August 29, 2021
Once he develops a third pitch, he’ll be well on his way to becoming a reliable starting pitcher at the MLB level.
But until then, the bullpen is an ideal spot for him.
He’s perfectly capable of delivering two or three solid frames on a pretty consistent basis.
So Far, So Good For Houck In The Bullpen
On Saturday, Houck made his first appearance out of the bullpen since being moved there.
The results were great.
The righty tossed 2.2 innings of shutout ball, allowing just one hit and fanning three batters.
Red Sox relievers Darwinzon Hernandez, Tanner Houck, Hansel Robles and Garrett Richards combined for 5 ⅓ scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out eight.
Houck with 2.2 IP
— Christopher 'Smitty' Smith (@SmittyOnMLB) September 18, 2021
The outing came against the Baltimore Orioles, so you might want to take it with a grain of salt, but still—he looked very impressive.
Overall, Houck has made three relief appearances this season, and he hasn’t allowed an earned run in that capacity.
Here are his totals as a reliever to this point: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K.
If that’s a sign of what’s to come, then the Red Sox are going to have an extremely valuable weapon in their bullpen for the remainder of the year.
Given Boston’s bullpen woes in the second half of the season, Houck’s addition as a reliever could be just what the doctor ordered.