Red Sox’ Tanner Houck Leaning on Nathan Eovaldi To Help Develop Splitter

As rookie right-hander Tanner Houck prepares to make his third and final start of the 2020 season against the Braves on Saturday, he is also looking ahead to the offseason.

The 24-year-old has impressed during his first two turns through the Red Sox rotation, yielding just one unearned run on three hits and six walks to go along with 11 strikeouts over 11 total innings pitched.

Houck has thrown 171 pitches in those two starts, and according to Statcast, 33% of those pitches have been sliders, 32% have been four-seam fastballs, 30% have been sinkers, and 5% have been split-finger fastballs.

That splitter, Houck’s newest and least-used pitch thus far, is something the former first-round pick is looking to continue to develop over the winter, and he’s seeking out advice from a fellow Red Sox rotation mate in order to do so.

“The main focus is continuing to develop the splitter,” Houck said of his offseason plans when speaking to reporters via Zoom on Friday. “That’s been a pitch that I started throwing during spring training 1.0 of this year. I’ve seen a lot of growth with it. A guy that I’ve talked to a lot about with the splitter is [Nathan] Eovaldi. He’s a great guy to talk about pitching and he has one of the nastiest splits, so I’ve been bouncing questions off him, how he holds it, what he’s thinking whenever he throws it. That’s step No. 1, to just develop that third pitch along with continuing to develop a feel for a two-seam going glove side, a four-seam going arm side, and just being able to move the ball around.”

Per Statcast, Houck is averaging a velocity of 87.1 mph and a spin rate of 1,571 revolutions per minute with the eight splitters he has thrown so far this year. Eovaldi, meanwhile, is averaging a velocity of 87.9 mph and a spin rate of 1,486 revolutions per minute with the 105 splitters he has thrown in 2020.

This isn’t the first time Eovaldi has doled out veteran wisdom to a younger Red Sox hurler, either. Back in August, rookie southpaw Kyle Hart said that the 30-year-old had helped him better understand the system some of the club’s starting pitchers use to scout other teams.

Red Sox Rookie Left-Hander Kyle Hart on Major-League Analytics: ‘You Have Access To Everybody’s Everything’

Rookie left-hander Kyle Hart is about to make his third career major-league start on Tuesday, and for the first time since getting drafted by the Red Sox in 2016, he has access to more information than he’s grown accustomed to while in the minors.

Speaking with reporters prior to Sunday’s game against the Orioles, the 27-year-old went into detail about this increase in resources that have been made available to him in between starts since he made his big-league debut on August 13.

“The analytics is probably the biggest adjustment, but also the biggest improvement,” Hart said. “You have access to everybody’s everything. That is something I really didn’t grapple with too much in the minor-leagues, both out of my own personal desire and also the lack of resources itself.

Despite that self-proclaimed “lack of resources,” Hart was still one of the more consistent pitchers in Boston’s farm system since he joined the organization out of the University of Indiana four years. Just last season, the Ohio native posted a 3.52 ERA and .233 batting average against over 27 outings (24 starts) and 156 innings pitched between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

Last November, Hart was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster, and as previously mentioned, he was called up to the majors for the first time earlier this month.

“Up here, it’s very readily available and it’s also something that we use and the coaches want us to use,” he added. “I’m adjusting to that and I’m trying to learn from it. Nate [Eovaldi] has been really good about helping me learn the system that some of the starting pitchers use to scout other teams.”

On top of getting assistance from his fellow rotation mate in Eovaldi, Hart can also turn to Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush for plenty of advice, information, and insights as well.

“Bushy, obviously, has a whole slew of notes, so we’re kind of combining our heads there,” said the southpaw. “The analytics are the biggest. In between starts, in terms of physically preparing, hasn’t changed much. And then the instruction I would say hasn’t changed much because I’ve worked so closely with [assistant pitching coach Kevin Walker] and Bushy throughout the year. So it is a high level of instruction, but it isn’t something I’m not used to.”

As he prepares to make his third start of the 2020 season, Hart will be pitching away from Fenway Park for the first time in his brief major-league career on Tuesday when he goes up against the Blue Jays in Buffalo.

Through his first two outings this year, the former 19th-round draft pick has allowed nine runs (seven earned) on nine hits, seven walks, and nine strikeouts over 5 2/3 total innings of work.

First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 6:37 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Hart will be going for his first career winning decision.