3 positive takeaways from an otherwise disastrous opening weekend for the Red Sox

In case you missed it, the Red Sox got swept by the Orioles over the weekend to kick off the 2021 season, marking the first time since 2012 they have started a season by losing three straight out of the gates.

It’s also the first time since 1948 that they have started the home portion of their schedule with three consecutive losses at Fenway Park.

In the process of getting swept by the O’s these last three days, the Sox never held a lead, went a collective 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position, and were outscored 18-5 over 27 total innings.

To put it simply, Boston’s 2021 campaign is off to a rather disastrous start, but it is still early, meaning there is time to turn things around.

Taking that optimistic outlook into consideration, there were still some positives the Red Sox can take away from their first series of the year. Here are three of them:

Tanner Houck picks up where he left off in 2021 debut

Tanner Houck (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Pitching with family members in attendance for the first time as a major-leaguer, Tanner Houck carried over the success he enjoyed last September (0.53 ERA in three starts) into his first start of the 2021 season on Saturday.

Starting in place of the injured Eduardo Rodriguez (left elbow inflammation), the 24-year-old surrendered three runs — two of which were earned) on six hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts, though his line was not indicative as to how well he pitched on account of some sloppy defense behind him.

“He did a good job,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said about the righty. “He was good. Velocity was up, moving all the pitches. He did an outstanding job. Good fastball up in the zone, controlled his emotions. He did an amazing job for us.”

Despite the strong performance on Saturday, there is no guarantee that Houck will make his next start the next time through Boston’s rotation. That all depends on if Rodriguez, who threw a simulated game in Worcester on Friday, is ready to return to action later this week.

Garrett Whitlock shines in major-league debut

Garrett Whitlock (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

After being selected by the Red Sox from the Yankees in the major-league phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, Garrett Whitlock emerged as one of the stories of spring training out of Fort Myers.

The 24-year-old allowed just one run over four Grapefruit League appearances this spring on his way to making the Sox’ Opening Day roster.

On Sunday, Whitlock made his big-league debut, pitching in relief of Garrett Richards and Josh Taylor, who combined to surrender 10 runs to the Orioles in just 2 2/3 innings of work.

Coming on with two outs and runners at every base in the top half of the third, the right-hander got out of the jam by getting Maikel Franco to fly out to right field. He then proceeded to retire nine of the next 12 hitters he faced while striking out five and not walking a single batter.

Per Red Sox Notes, Whitlock became the first Red Sox pitcher ever to allow zero runs, zero walks, and punch out five-plus hitters in a big-league debut. 39 of the 59 pitches he threw went for strikes.

Sunday’s outing marked Whitlock’s first time pitching in a competitive (non-spring training) environment since undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2019. He had never pitched above Double-A prior to going under the knife.

“It was a dream come true,” the Alabama native — who had his mother and wife on hand to watch him –said in regards to making his major-league debut on Sunday. “It was an honor to be wearing the Red Sox name making that dream come true. I just can’t thank everyone with the Red Sox enough for giving me a chance.”

Of the 59 pitches Whitlock threw on Sunday, 44 were two-seam fastballs, 13 were changeups, and two were sliders. Seven of the eight swings-and-misses he induced on the day came on the two-seamer.

“He was good,” said Cora. “He pounded the strike zone, used his fastball up, mixed up his offspeed pitches. It was fun to watch.”

J.D. Martinez off to hot start at the plate

J.D. Martinez (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

While the majority of the Red Sox lineup stumbled out of the gate against Orioles pitching over the weekend, J.D. Martinez did not.

Following a 2-for-4 showing in which he crushed his first home run of the season on Sunday, the 33-year-old slugger is now 6-for-12 with that one homer, three doubles, three RBI, and two runs scored to kick off his 2021 campaign.

The homer he hit on Sunday — which traveled 429 feet to dead center field off a 92 mph fastball from Bruce Zimmermann — was the 239th of Martinez’s career.

For Martinez, who would surely like to put a dismal 2020 season (seven homers, .680 OPS in 54 games) behind him, what he did over the weekend was a great place to start.

“He’s such a workaholic,” Cora said of the three-time All-Star. “In spring training, we saw him swinging and swinging and swinging, chasing pitches. All of the sudden, boom. The strike zone gets smaller, he gets pitches he can handle and he’s driving the ball. That was a good pitch down in the zone and he put a good swing on it It’s good to see him start off this way.”

So for how miserable of an opening series the Red Sox had, there were still some bright spots that indicate that this team may be better than the slow start they have gotten off to would show.

Coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles, though, things do no get any easier for the Sox with the reigning American League champion Tampa Bay Rays coming into town for another three-game set that begins on Monday night.

If Boston wants to show that they can compete and play winning baseball at Fenway Park, they will need to turn things around quickly or otherwise risk falling out of contention much sooner than anticipated.

“We know where we’re at. It wasn’t a good weekend,” Cora said on Sunday. “But at the end of the day, it’s only three games. We have a chance to come tomorrow and do it again. We have to be better. Like I said, we have stuff to work on. I still feel the same way about the team five days ago than right now. We have a good team, but we still have to work, and work for our stuff.

“We just got to be ready,” he added. “And the goal whether it’s Baltimore, Tampa, or Seattle, it doesn’t matter. You try to win the series. So tomorrow is a new series. We got a chance to win it and we’ll go at it.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Author: Brendan Campbell

Blogging about the Boston Red Sox since April '17. Also support Tottenham Hotspur.

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