For the first time since May 28, 2015, a Red Sox rookie won their Major League debut. Five years ago, it was Eduardo Rodriguez against the Rangers, tonight, it was Tanner Houck against the Marlins.
Pitching development has not been the Red Sox farm system’s forte for some time now; they’ve done a lot more trading prospects and spending big to get stellar arms like David Price and Chris Sale from outside the system and not enough developing of Jon Lester types, not that arms like his grow on trees. But over the last year, with the luxury tax threshold looming, they’ve had to look inward, and what they saw was not so pretty. So it’s a relief that there is some hope for the Red Sox pitching in the distant future, especially given how hopeless the starter situation has been this season and last.
But back to Houck, because he deserves all the kudos tonight. And he got them from all around baseball. Before the game, fellow Mizzou Tiger alum Max Scherzer sent him a congratulatory message, telling him to enjoy this moment that’s been years in the making. During the game, many were astounded by his slider, including Rob Friedman, also known as Pitching Ninja, and NESN commentator and former MLB pitcher Dennis Eckersley, who complimented him throughout the game.
Houck’s first big-league strikeout came against Jesús Aguilar, on a 3-2 count with 2 outs in the bottom of the first inning. Aguilar could be seen nodding his head as he left the batter’s box, frustrated to have struck out, but impressed by his opponent. Between the first and second innings, he struck out three consecutive batters. By the end of the night, Houck had compiled 7 strikeouts over 5 scoreless innings, only allowing 2 hits and walking 3. 49 of his 86 pitches were for strikes. The pitchers who followed maintained the shutout, and the Red Sox beat the Marlins, 2-0.
According to Red Sox Notes, only four pitchers in franchise history have struck out seven or more batters and pitched a scoreless major league debut.
1. Larry Pape – 7/6/1909 vs. WSH-g2 (9.0 IP, 7 SO)
2. Dave Morehead – 4/13/1963 at WSH (9.0 IP, 10 SO)
3. Eduardo Rodriguez – 5/28/2015 at TEX (7.2 IP, 7 SO)
4. Tanner Houck – 9/15/2020 at MIA (5.0 IP, 7 SO)
Coming into tonight, the 24-year-old Houck, who had been the 24th pick in the 2017 draft, was ranked as Boston’s 10th-best prospect. MLB ranked him 5th among Red Sox pitching prospects behind Bryan Mata, Noah Song, Jay Gromme, and Thad Ward. In his college career at University of Missouri, he posted a 3.26 ERA over 44 starts in three years. Last season in Triple-A Pawtucket, he posted a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings over 16 games, though only two of those were starts. According to Sox Prospects, his four-seam fastball regularly hits the mid-to-high 90s, while his slider sits in the mid-80s. The latter is what impressed Eck so much in his debut tonight.
Postgame, Houck told the media (via Zoom) that his debut was “a surreal moment,” and went on to say, “I can’t even put it into words… The reality is everything I could have imagined.”
Houck also did something special with his major league debut that you don’t see very often: he used it as an opportunity to raise money for a cause near to his family’s heart. Houck’s younger sister Reanna is adopted, and he met her for the first time at one of his high school baseball games. Throughout the day, he and the Red Sox tweeted about his pledge to donate money to Caritas Family Solutions for each strikeout he achieved in his debut. After the game, he spoke about how proud he was “to pitch for [his] cause.”
It’s nice to have good athletes on your favorite teams, it’s infinitely better when they’re good human beings off the field.
The Red Sox have no future this season. They’re in last place in their division, now 18-31, not a popsicle’s chance in hell of chance of making the postseason, even in this year’s expanded format. But with someone like Tanner Houck becoming a part of the team, the future looks like it will be a lot better, and that’s really all Red Sox Nation can do right now; look to the future.
Congratulations and welcome to the big show, Tanner Houck.
Photo: Red Sox