Tanner Houck’s career trajectory has changed quite a bit these last few weeks.
Projected as a starting option down the line as he continued to develop with Double-A Portland, the Red Sox’ problematic bullpen forced the organization to make a change, with Houck transitioning to a relief role — along with a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket — as they look to fast-track him to a reliever corps that needs some help.
"It's definitely exciting,” Houck said of the move to the bullpen. “They've been talking to me about it and they think the move to the bullpen is a good move for me right now, so I was all on board and was just kind of like 'Alright, let's dive headfirst into it, let's go.'"
A hard-throwing righthander with an excellent two-seam fastball, Houck threw fairly well in Portland, going 8-6 with a 4.25 ERA — he had some issues with his command at times and needs to limit his walks, but 80 strikeouts in 82.2 innings in Double-A suggest some real potential to succeed out of the bullpen.
Houck believes his stuff “definitely (plays up) well. I've been known as only a two-pitch pitcher with the fastball/slider, but I've definitely been working my tail off trying to develop the changeup and I've seen a lot of progress with that, so I'm going to continue to develop that and hopefully go back into the starting role after this year. But until then every outing I get I'm going to still be mostly fastball/slider, might throw a changeup every once in while but mostly those two."
The organization had Houck throwing primarily four-seam fastballs last season but he’s back to the sinking action that made him so successful in college.
He made his first relief appearance with Pawtucket on Monday, throwing a scoreless inning and stranding the two batters he walked. It’s a big change for Houck, a lifelong starter, but he’s transitioning to the new routine well.
"You've just got to show up to the field ready every day,” Houck said. “You can't take a day off, you've got to stay on top of whatever you need in the training room, whatever you feel like you need on the field, so you've really got to listen to your body and know every night that there's potential for you to pitch.
"I haven't looked at it as anything different, the mound's still 60 feet and six inches away, it's kind of cliche for someone to say that but it's the same mindset, you've just got to go out there and throw strikes."
It seems likely that the Red Sox will give Houck at least a few weeks to adjust in Pawtucket, with no real timeline — at least that he’s aware of — to make the move to the big leagues.
"It's really up to them, it's not my call,” he said. “I just go out there and I want to throw up zeroes every chance I get, and kind of let them worry about all that other stuff."