Let former Red Sox Daniel Bard inspire you
ANAHEIM - Within the small step back the Red Sox took Monday night at Angel Stadium was a significantly larger leap forward.
That was thanks to one player: Tanner Houck.
The Red Sox lost their series-opener against the Angels, 2-1, thanks to an eighth-inning solo home run off the bat of Mickey 'Mantle' Moniak off reliever Kutter Crawford. (As a side-note, Moniak has become of this month's best stories, with the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft coming out of nowhere to hit .429 with a 1.341 OPS.)
And, yes, it sure would behoove the Red Sox to win these games. They have three teams in front of them - the Orioles, Yankees and Astros - who are among the hottest in baseball, and these Angels sit in the same neighborhood as Alex Cora's club, just 1/2 game back of the Sox.
But on this late May day, it was Houck who meant the most.
The Red Sox are in a race against time to define who can do what and in what role as they head into June. Chris Sale is the ace. Brayan Bello appears to represent the kind of upside any club would be happy to roll the dice on. James Paxton has done nothing but impress in his first two starts of the season. And Garrett Whitlock is going to get every opportunity, starting Saturday, to offer the image of a reliable starting pitcher.
And, at this point, Houck is another piece of the starting pitching foundation the Red Sox can officially start fully leaning on.
“It’s huge," said Cora of Houck's six-inning, one-run outing. "He gave us a chance to win. And that's what we asked for. Little by little, stuff-wise, he's one of the best that we have. We talked about it in spring training. He’s going to pitch a lot of innings. You know, if it was a reliever, a starter, he was going to pitch a lot of inning. Right now, he’s one of our best starters, forget the numbers. You look up and you see a five (ERA) and you’re like, nah, that’s not him. So I'm glad that he pitched well against them. And now we'll get ready for the next one."
Maybe it was because of an evolving split-fingered fastball - which he threw 19 percent of the time, second only to his slider (41 percent).
“I’ve worked on that pitch for three or four years now,” said Houck. “Really pushing the envelope. I’m glad I mixed it in a little bit earlier tonight. I felt pretty confident with it. It’s one of those pitches where I have continued to work and continued to push myself on that. So any time you have success, it’s a good feeling.”
Or perhaps it was the ability to reverse the narrative that he couldn't get guys out the second and third time through the batting order, holding the Angels to just two hits in 14 at-bats during those frames.
Whatever the reason, the righty is hardly part of the problem. On a team looking for definitive solutions, it sure seems like Houck has become exactly that.
"I try not to worry about it," said Houck regarding the talk that he was a one-time-through-the-order guy. "I worry about going out there and executing pitches and worry about the next start and the five or six days leading up to that next start. I know those things matter more than reading anything else online. Just staying in-house and continuing to work and continuing to get better each time."