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Tanner Houck gets the call: He’ll likely start Red Sox season in starting rotation

Tanner Houck came into Red Sox spring training with no expectations, but the expectation of his manager is that Houck will be part of the starting rotation to begin the season.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Tanner Houck spent much of the 2021 season on the elevator between Triple A Worcester and the big leagues despite being one of the Red Sox’ better pitchers. Houck was optioned seven times, four between late July and August.

Heading into the offseason, the Red Sox were uncertain about how they would use Houck in 2022. On Sunday, manager Alex Cora put aside some of that uncertainty, at least in the short term, intimating it’s likely Houck will be a part of the starting rotation to begin the year.

“Obviously, I’m looking forward to him taking the next step,” Cora said Sunday ahead of Houck’s Grapefruit League debut against the Orioles. ”It was a different role [last year]. He was really good for us. Now, it’s just a matter of putting everything together and keep improving.”


“I mean, my plan coming into camp was to work and not really take anything for granted,” Houck said. “Thank you to them and I hope to make them proud.”

The Sox wanted Houck to go three innings Sunday, but three walks cut the righthander’s start short. Houck lasted 2⅔ innings, surrendering one run on a Ramón Urias homer to right.

“It was my first time out,” Houck said. “Knocking the rust off. You can throw as many live batting practices and bullpens as you want. Getting into game situations is definitely a little bit different.”

The difference between last year and this one is that Houck will be called upon on a consistent basis. The elevator may have made its final stop.

“Throughout his minor league career, the organization made some adjustments, and he kept going and doing it,” Cora said. “And now we’re getting close to the final product.”

Shaw excited to be back

The lockout was tough on some veteran players like first baseman Travis Shaw. The inability to communicate with teams over a three-month period made it difficult for players with something to prove.


Travis Shaw hit three homers in 48 plate appearances last season.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

In Shaw’s case, he was coming off a campaign with the Brewers where he hit .191 in 202 plate appearances, was designated for assignment, and claimed off waivers by the Red Sox. He provided some oomph, batting .238/.319/.524 with three homers in 48 plate appearances, plus five appearances in the postseason.

That impression didn’t ensure a roster spot, particularly if you consider Shaw’s below-average defense at first, but the Sox saw enough for a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training.

“There weren’t really a ton of options after the lockout. And we were kind of crunched on time with a short spring training, so you want to get into camp as quick as possible,” Shaw said. "It was kind of the best situation for me at the time, so I just jumped on it.”

This marks the third time Shaw is with the Red Sox, after being drafted by them in 2011 and making his debut in 2015. He believes the run last season has given this club a bit of a boost.

“I know the energy that Fenway brought in October last year was pretty incredible,” Shaw said. “Guys were talking about it in the locker room, and even after the season, it was something that was very noticeable, and there’s nothing better than playing October baseball. And I think that’s the goal.”

Bello’s rise continues

Rightanded starter Brayan Bello‘s rise through the Red Sox ranks continues to take shape.


Bello, who along with infield prospect Jeter Downs represented the Red Sox in the Futures Game last summer, steamrolled his way through Greenville last season, compiling a 2.27 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 31⅔ innings. That prompted a promotion to Double A Portland at just 21 years old. Despite a 4.66 ERA there, Bello again highlighted his power stuff, striking out 87 in 63⅔ innings.

Now, he’s in big-league camp and is rated the Sox’ No. 5 prospect, according to Baseball America.

Brayan Bello is rated the Red Sox’ No. 5 prospect, according to Baseball America.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

“I’m really happy because that just shows the hard work that I put in to be able to even be invited to big league camp,” Bello said. “Like, that’s really what was the goal to be able to have this opportunity. So now that I’m here, like, I’m trying to just take advantage of it.”

Bello harnesses an upper-90s fastball with a devastating changeup. His slider continues to be a work-in-progress. Sox fans can expect him to pitch either Tuesday or Wednesday, Cora said.

Bello undoubtedly has more to prove in the minors. But he’s certainly yet another glimpse into the Sox’ future.

“Everybody raves about him,” Cora said. “[He doesn’t have] a physical presence. But what they said stuff wise, he’s really good.”

Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.