Tanner Houck 'most likely' has earned a spot in the Red Sox' starting rotation


FORT MYERS, Fla. - Lost in a day dominated with the news that the Red Sox had come to terms with free agent Trevor Story, Alex Cora announced that Tanner Houck would "most likely" be part of the team's starting rotation to begin the 2022 season.

With Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta taking up the rotation's top two spots, Houck now slots in at No. 3 with the likely combination of Rich Hill and Michael Wacha filling things out. Garrett Whitlock, who is still being stretched out, remains a possibility to slide in as a starter.

"He did an amazing job last year," Cora said of Houck. "Obviously, looking forward for him to take the next step. It was a different role and he was really good for us. Now it's just a matter of putting everything together and keep improving, but he’s a guy that we trust. He’s a guy that we're going to stretch out and the way he went about it last year, with everything that went on, was perfect. We were talking about it in a meeting early on, and I always respect what they do in player development, but this kid, he was a real project throughout the years. What he did on the field, the way he acted in the clubhouse, whenever we called him into a meeting to tell him that he was going down and all that, he was amazing, great citizen for us and a great example for those kids in player development how to act as a big leaguer. So we're very proud of him."

When the subject of pitching a third time through the order came up - a scenario that Houck faced six times in 2021 (succumbing to a .467 batting average against) - Cora downplayed any concerns.

"I think whenever he pitched, I think you guys made a bigger deal than it actually was," the manager stated. "Whenever he pitched, it seemed like we were very suited to go to the bullpen very aggressively. If you look at the contact and how hit how hard he got hit, he didn't get hit really hard. There were a few outings, yeah, like Franco hitting the home run, I think it was a day game in the sixth inning and all that, that's gonna happen. But I think overall I do believe he's built to go deeper into games. If he's part of the rotation, now it's different. It’s not that you pitch every X amount of days and you have to be worried about workload and how many days in between he had. If he’s in the rotation, it is a more consistent approach with him. So I do believe he’ll be OK."

In his 2 2/3-inning outing against the Orioles Sunday, Houck gave up a run on one hit (a Ramon Urias home run), walking three and striking out two. One of the punch outs came on a split-fingered fastball, which the righty has been working on integrating into his mix.

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