The first call Tanner Houck made was to his mother, Jennifer. The Missouri native remembered all the long trips they took into St. Louis when he was just 7 years old just so Houck could get pitching lessons. It was part of the sacrifices his mother made.
“She’s been there for everything,” he said.
Houck will make his major league debut, starting in Tuesday’s matchup against the Miami Marlins. The righthander joined the Sox for their series against the Tampa Bay Rays. But it wasn’t until Sunday morning, while he was on the field, that Houck got the news from manager Ron Roenicke that he would be activated.
“I’m definitely excited,” Houck said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I started playing baseball. Finally getting that call to make my debut and get that start, I’m truly honored. It’s something I’ve worked my whole life for.”
Houck, 24, was the Sox' first-round draft choice in 2017. In his three minor league seasons, Houck compiled a 4.08 ERA in 249 innings, striking out 243 batters. In his 25 innings last season at Triple A Pawtucket, Houck struck out 27 and compiled a 3.24 ERA. He’s always had issues against lefties. In 2019, lefties hit .283 against him. Righties, meanwhile, batted just .227. Houck also walked 31 lefties compared with just 15 righties.
Despite the cancellation of the minor league season, Houck spent his time down at the alternate training site, honing his craft. At times, the Sox minor league staff would have Houck focus on pitching against lefties. It helped Houck get better control of that aspect of his game.
“I definitely feel a lot more confident against lefties,” Houck said. “I definitely added a new weapon with the splitter. I was kind of on the fence with both my changeup and splitter.”
The team presented Houck the numbers, showing him that he’s more effective when he throws his splitter instead of his changeup to righties and lefties. As a result, Houck eliminated the changeup from his repertoire.
“It just kind of opened up a new avenue,” Houck said. “I’ve been able to focus in on that completely along with continuing to develop the glove-side four-seam fastball, then continuing to throw a two-seam and slider.”
It remains to be seen if Houck can remain a starter. That largely depends on Houck, who was sent to the bullpen for a portion of 2019. To be a starter, he would certainly need to prove he can be successful against lefthanders.
This year won’t provide too much of a sample size, but Houck could get three starts before the season’s end. There would be nothing better for him than to go into the offseason having made a good impression.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do,” Roenicke said. “We talk about it, the emotions you have your first outing. We’ll see how he handles that. He acts like he’s a confident kid and I know he’s got the big arm. Hopefully that first inning goes smooth an we’ll see what he’s all about.”
For Houck, this opportunity was 24 years in the making. You could say the same for his mother, too. It all came pouring out of her after Houck told her the news.
“She definitely starting crying,” Houck said. “Just getting to share that moment with her was truly special.”