You can make an argument that Tanner Houck, only two games into his major league career, is already one of the most important players on the Red Sox.
That the 24-year-old righthander worked into the sixth inning before giving up a hit against the Yankees in Sunday’s 10-2 victory suggests there is finally hope the Sox just might have developed a reliable starter.
Houck allowed one hit and one unearned run over six innings. He walked three and struck out four against a team that had won 10 straight and leads the American League in runs scored.
The Yankees would have clinched a playoff berth with a win. Houck made them wait. That counts as an achievement for the Red Sox this season.
“Going deep into the game like that with a no-hitter is truly an unbelievable experience,” said Houck, who has given up just that one unearned run in 11 innings in his two starts.
Don’t get too excited just yet. The last Red Sox pitcher to throw at least five innings without giving up an earned run in each of his first two starts was the late Vaughn Eshelman in 1995. He was out of the majors two years later with a 6.07 earned run average.
For now, Houck has shown the type of poise that often translates into long-term success.
He averaged 94 miles-per-hour with his four-seam fastball against Miami last Tuesday and struck out seven in five innings. But that fastball sat at only 91 mph on Sunday.
Houck turned to his sinker and retired 13 of the first 16 batters he faced.
“Whenever the velo’s down like that, I typically lean on [the sinker] a little more,” Houck said. “It was moving a lot more than usual. I went up there and attacked with that.”
The Sox snapped an embarrassing 12-game losing streak against the Yankees that went back to last season. More importantly, Houck continued to make a case for next year.
You have to go back to Clay Buchholz, who was drafted in 2005, to find a pitcher who came out of the organization and claimed a spot in the rotation on more than an occasional basis.
The Sox have spent millions on draft picks and international signings and have been left with relievers, trade chips, or just flops. In some cases their scouts wildly overrated players. In others the player development staff never found a way to convert talent into production.
The Sox skillfully filled the gaps with free agents and trades to claim championships in 2013 and ’18. But they’ve never been able to find the next Buchholz or Jon Lester.
Houck, a first-round pick in 2017 out of Missouri, hasn’t always had a straight path. He was hit hard in Single A in 2018 and last season spent time in the bullpen in Triple A, the Sox thinking he was better suited for relief given his lack of a reliable third pitch.
Houck is trying to address that issue by developing a split-finger fastball he can use as a changeup. He threw it only twice on Sunday but his fastball and slider were enough against the Yankees.
Tyler Wade led off the sixth inning with a double to break up the no-hitter, then took third on a passed ball. D.J. LeMahieu then drew a walk and Houck was in a jam.
It ended in four pitches. Luke Voit grounded a well-located slider into a double play and Aaron Hicks grounded out to second.
“Getting back on the plan of going right at the hitters and knowing the stuff plays,” Houck said.
All Houck has earned so far is a chance to make the team in spring training next season. It would be premature to award him a spot.
“I still obviously have things to work on,” Houck said. “I have one more start this year that I plan going just as well. Confidence is really high. Just got to continue to work. I’ve had success now but I know there’s going to be bumps in the road.”
As manager Ron Roenicke said, Houck is going to be a name discussed a lot by the Sox for next season. They have two other young starters, Bryan Mata and Jay Groome, who could soon spark some conversations.
The Red Sox gave you something to dream about Sunday. Michael Chavis hit two home runs and drove in five runs, and rookie Bobby Dalbec hit his seventh home run in 17 games, a sky-scraping blast to left.
“Moving forward I’m looking forward to us being together,” Chavis said.