A new name was added to the Red Sox closer carousel on Friday.
Righty Tanner Houck came on for the final inning in the first game of a three-game set against the Mariners. With Boston up 4-3, Houck had a chance to continue the momentum the Red Sox’ have built on their West Coast trip, but he had to go against the heart of the Mariners’ order.
Houck hit the first batter he faced, Mariners third baseman Ty France, in a seven-pitch at-bat, nailing France with his fastball. He bounced back to strike out center fielder Julio Rodriguez with a sinker on the inside edge of the zone but shortstop J.P. Crawford hit a soft single to put runners at first and second.
Houck again bounced back, striking out third baseman Eugenio Suarez on a sinker low and away. However, Christian Vázquez let the ball get by him, which allowed the runners to move into scoring position.
It only took one pitch though for Houck to get out of trouble for good. Pinch-hitter Adam Frazier hit a line drive right to second to end the game, giving Houck the save in his first closer appearance.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora expressed after the game that he prefers to use Houck for one inning in his outings as opposed to what he’s been doing recently.
“We kept pushing for this,” Cora said. “I just feel like where we’re at pitching-staff wise, losing him for three or four days [after a long relief outing] puts us in a bad spot.”
Cora shared that Houck feels similarly.
“He wants to pitch in situations like this,” Cora said. “He likes it. And he’ll be ready for his next inning, whenever it is.”
The Red Sox’ closer role has been vacant since August of last season when Matt Barnes started to lose control. Cora isn’t ready to name a new closer yet, but he’s willing to give Houck more opportunities similar to the one he dealt with on Friday.
“The stuff, you see it. The sinker and the four-seamer and the slider,” Cora said. “I’m not going to say he’s going to close. We closed with [Matt Strahm] before. But we had all those switch-hitters in the eighth and that was the way we drew it up. And those two guys are throwing the ball well.
“… We’re going to maximize his talent and give him high-leverage situations.”
Houck’s pitched well out of the bullpen this season, going 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA over 25 innings pitched in 11 appearances.
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