Tanner Houck wants to be a starting pitcher. He’s worked diligently in his professional career to develop the diverse pitch mix to perform in that role.
The righthander, who was drafted with a tremendous sinker/slider combination, now chooses among five offerings. In 2020, he developed his four-seamer as a pitch to attack the glove side of the plate against lefthanded batters.
That same year, he started developing a splitter, and in early 2023, he’s shown comfort using it in a wide array of situations against righties and lefties. This offseason, given that his sinker, splitter, and even his four-seamer had arm-side run, he worked to develop a cutter to give him a pitch with right-to-left break.
With that mix, Houck (2-0, 4.50 ERA, 15 strikeouts, and 7 walks in 14 innings over three starts) feels he has a more complete starter’s arsenal than at any point in his life.
“I’ve always seen myself as a starter. There’s not ever been really any doubt in my mind that I’m not a starter,” said Houck. “I definitely feel like I’ve put myself in an even better [position] than I have in years past because before I was more of a two-pitch pitcher, and now I ultimately have four pitches, five pitches that I feel like I can throw at any point.”
Despite that conviction, it’s possible that Houck will soon lose his spot in the rotation. Brayan Bello is set to come off the injured list on Monday, a development that will set in motion a game of musical chairs among Red Sox starters.
According to manager Alex Cora, team officials will sit down after the next two days to decide how to proceed. No decisions about roles will be made this weekend.
With no offdays until April 27, it’s possible the Sox could elect to employ a six-man rotation for one or two turns. Still, by the end of the month, a starter could be moved to the bullpen, and given that Houck made that switch in 2021 and 2022, he’s an obvious candidate.
“He’s a good pitcher, that’s the bottom line,” said Cora. “We have to maximize his ability and he’s going to pitch a lot of innings.”
Houck has a clear preference about the role in which those innings would come, but he recognizes that the matter is not one of his choosing.
“I’m starting this year. I hope to continue in that role,” said Houck. “It’s really their call at the end of the day. I don’t have much say over it. We’ll have conversations, but I can only go out there and compete and put my best foot forward and continue to fight for the spot.”
Paxton getting closer
James Paxton’s fourth pitch of his rehab start Friday night with Triple A Worcester registered at 97 miles per hour. So did his 70th and final offering of a 3⅓-inning effort in which he allowed two runs on four hits while striking out six.
“The arm strength feels great,” said Paxton. “The fastball has felt great.”
Still, Paxton, who last pitched in a big league game on April 6, 2021, said that he’s still working to reclaim the command and shape of his cutter and curveball. Cora said that Paxton will get at least one or two additional rehab starts before the team will consider activating him. As eager as Paxton is to return to the big leagues, he’s trying not to think ahead in his rehab progression.
“I’m focused on the day to day,” said Paxton. “I’m focused on doing whatever I can to make myself better and get that one step closer to being back here.”
Kelly’s next step?
Righthander Zack Kelly’s MRI results from Friday will be sent to the doctor who performed an internal bracing procedure on his pitching elbow in 2020. Kelly, who left Wednesday’s game at Tampa Bay after injuring his elbow, said on Friday night that the MRI showed his ulnar collateral ligament is intact, but that the result was puzzling given the persistence of pain … Masataka Yoshida was out of the lineup for a fourth straight game in Saturday’s 9-7 comeback win over the Angels but is slated to DH on Sunday and start in left field on Monday, when Shohei Ohtani will start for the Angels. “There’s some players giving him some [expletive] over there, like, ‘You’ve got to play Monday. Don’t hide from [Ohtani],’ ” Cora said … With Ohtani and Yoshida set to face off, famed Japanese actor, comedian, and singer Takaaki Ishibashi was at Fenway to film interviews for his television show. He spoke with Yoshida, Ohtani, and Justin Turner during batting practice. Ishibashi’s acting credits include “Major League II” and “Major League: Back to the Minors.” … The Angels called up shortstop Zach Neto — their first-round pick in the 2022 draft — to make his big league debut. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts … Angels righthander Ryan Tepera left the game with a shoulder issue.
On One Boston Day, the Red Sox commemorated the 10th anniversary of the 2013 Marathon bombings in an emotional ceremony prior to the game. The team recognized public safety officers, emergency medical professionals, law enforcement members, and civic leaders involved in the response to the crisis, as well as bombing survivors and family members of those who died. Several members of the 2013 Red Sox championship team took part. A reunion of the 2013 team will take place during pregame ceremonies on Sunday … The Sox also recognized the 76th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. All big leaguers, including those on the Red Sox and Angels, wore No. 42 to honor the Hall of Famer.