Red Sox closer Tanner Houck shut down from throwing due to continued back soreness

Red Sox closer Tanner Houck was slated to throw live batting practice in Worcester on Tuesday. That did not happen as scheduled.

Houck, who has been on the injured list with lower back inflammation since August 6, is now “on hold” from throwing “because of continued back soreness,” manager Alex Cora told reporters (including The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham) before Tuesday’s game against the Twins.

Two weeks ago, Houck was diagnosed with a disc issue in his lower back after being examined by a spine specialist in Boston. Following a brief period of rest, the right-hander resumed playing catch again at Fenway Park last week after responding well to treatment.

“He’s got the green light to keep going,” Cora said last Tuesday. “We just have to build him up and see how it goes. The hope is for him to get back at one point this season. He feels strong. The treatment has been good. It’s just the start now. He feels good enough to keep going.”

Despite those positive steps, it now appears as though Houck’s availability for the rest of the year is in question. With only five weeks left until the regular season ends, the Red Sox could very well elect to shut down the 26-year-old hurler as their playoff hopes continue to dwindle.

Houck began the 2022 season in Boston’s starting rotation and started four games before moving to the bullpen on a full-time basis on May 15. Since then, the righty has posted a 1.49 ERA and 3.18 FIP with 33 strikeouts to 11 walks over 25 relief appearances spanning 36 1/3 innings of work. He has also gone 8-for-9 in save opportunities.

While Houck has been sidelined, the Red Sox have had to look elsewhere in regards to closing out games. Since Houck last pitched on Aug. 2, Garrett Whitlock has recorded a team-high three saves while Matt Barnes has notched two and John Schreiber has picked up one.

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox promote Zack Kelly, Kaleb Ort from Triple-A Worcester; Austin Davis, Hirokazu Sawamura designated for assignment

UPDATE: This is now official. The Red Sox have called up Kelly and Ort from Triple-A Worcester and have designated Davis and Sawamura for assignment, the club announced before Monday’s series opener against the Twins.

Kelly will wear the No. 76, becoming just the fourth player in franchise history to do so and the first since Hector Velazquez donned the number from 2017-2019.

After designating Austin Davis and Hirokazu Sawamura for assignment on Sunday, the Red Sox are expected to call up right-handers Zack Kelly and Kaleb Ort from Triple-A Worcester, according to multiple reports.

Kelly and Ort will join the Red Sox and their new-look bullpen in Minnesota ahead of Monday’s series opener against the Twins at Target Field. The former will need to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster while the latter is already on it.

When Kelly gets into a game, it will mark his major-league debut. The 27-year-old has spent the last two seasons in the Red Sox organization after originally signing a minor-league deal with the club last January. Prior to that, Kelly had gone undrafted out of Division II Newberry College (Newberry, S.C.) and signed with the Athletics for just $500 in January 2017.

After splitting time between the Athletics and Angels organizations, Kelly suffered an elbow injury in the spring of 2020 that would ultimately require surgery. He was released by Los Angeles that May in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Since then, however, Kelly has only seen his stock rise. The native Virginian posted a 2.18 ERA over 36 appearances (45 1/3 innings) between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester last year and leveraged that performance into his first-ever invite to big-league spring training after re-signing with the Red Sox in November.

With the WooSox this season, Kelly has pitched to a stellar 2.72 ERA and 2.81 FIP to go along with 72 strikeouts to 25 walks over 44 relief appearances spanning 49 2/3 innings of work. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound hurler operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a high-90s fastball, a low-80s changeup, and a high-80s cutter.

Ort, who debuted for Boston last September, has produced a 9.00 ERA and 4.06 FIP with 13 strikeouts and seven walks across 12 outings (15 innings) at the major-league level this season. The Red Sox originally acquired the 30-year-old from the Yankees in the minor-league phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft.

Frequently pitching behind Kelly in Worcester, Ort owns a 2.88 ERA (2.68 FIP) in 39 appearances for the WooSox this year. He has put up those numbers while converting 16 of a possible 18 save opportunities.

When Davis and Sawamura are officially designated for assignment and Kelly and Ort are officially called up, the Red Sox will have 26 players on their 26-man roster and 39 players on their 40-man roster. At this point in time, it is not yet known how they will use that open spot.

(Picture of Zack Kelly: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

Red Sox to designate Austin Davis for assignment, per report

The Red Sox are going to designate left-hander Austin Davis for assignment before Monday’s game against the Twins in Minnesota, according to The Athletic’s Chad Jennings.

Davis, 29, has posted a 5.47 ERA and 3.95 FIP to go along with 61 strikeouts to 29 walks over 50 appearances (three starts) spanning 54 1/3 innings of work for the Red Sox this season.

Boston originally acquired Davis from the Pirates in the trade that sent Michael Chavis to Pittsburgh last July. Red Sox manager Alex Cora frequently turned to the lefty reliever during the latter half of the 2021 season and that remained to be the case this year.

To begin his first full season in Boston, Davis produced a solid 2.16 ERA and 3.46 FIP with 36 strikeouts to 16 walks across his first 31 outings (two starts) and 33 1/3 innings pitched through July 7. He was putting up those numbers while holding opposing hitters to a .202/.309/.294 slash line against.

Since July 8, however, Davis has struggled to the tune of a 10.71 ERA with 25 strikeouts to 13 walks in his last 19 appearances (one start) and 11 innings. He allowed four runs (two earned) on three hits, one walk, and one punchout over two innings of relief in Sunday’s 12-4 loss to the Rays at Fenway Park.

Davis, who turns 30 in February, is out of minor-league options. The Red Sox will have the next seven days to either outright or release the Arizona native. If he clears waivers, however, Davis could reject an outright assignment to the minor-leagues in favor of free agency since he has already accrued more than three years of big-league service time.

By designating Davis for assignment, the Red Sox have created an opening on both their 26- and 40-man rosters. It remains to be seen how they will fill those spots, though they are required to carry 13 pitchers until rosters expand on Thursday.

If the Sox elect to fill Davis’ vacancy with a reliever who is already on the 40-man roster, Darwinzon Hernandez and Kaleb Ort are potential options who are currently with Triple-A Worcester. Tyler Danish was just optioned to Worcester on Sunday so he can not be called back up for the next 15 days unless he is replacing an injured player.

If Chaim Bloom and Co. look beyond the 40-man roster for Davis’ replacement, The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reports that there is ‘a good chance’ right-hander Zack Kelly gets called up to replace Davis in the bullpen.

Kelly, 27, has spent the last two years in the Red Sox organization after signing a minor-league deal with the club last January. In 44 appearances for the WooSox this season, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound hurler has pitched to a 2.72 ERA (2.81 FIP) with 72 strikeouts to 25 walks across 49 2/3 innings of work.

(Picture of Austin Davis: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Matt Strahm likely to be activated from injured list for Friday’s series opener against Orioles, Alex Cora says

UPDATE: Strahm told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier he expected to be activated before Friday’s series opener against the Orioles in Baltimore. A corresponding roster move will need to be made.

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There is a “good chance” Red Sox reliever Matt Strahm returns from the injured list and joins the team in Pittsburgh on Thursday, manager Alex Cora told reporters (including The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham) prior to Wednesday’s game against the Pirates.

Strahm has been sidelined since July 12. That night, the left-hander took a 98 mph line drive off his throwing hand from Taylor Walls in the sixth inning of a 3-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. He was immediately removed from the game and was later diagnosed with a left wrist contusion, though x-rays did come back negative.

Three days later, Strahm was placed on the 15-day injured list (retroactive to July 13) with said contusion. The 30-year-old southpaw began throwing again earlier this month and was sent out on a brief rehab assignment with Triple-A Worcester on Tuesday night.

In what will likely be his lone appearance for the WooSox, Strahm struck out one of the three batters he faced in a scoreless sixth inning against the Rochester Red Wings at Polar Park. He needed just 14 pitches (9 strikes) to get through the perfect frame and was hovering around 94-95 mph with his fastball, per Cora.

Signed to a one-year, $3 million deal back in March, Strahm has posted a 3.58 ERA and 2.61 FIP to go along with 32 strikeouts to seven walks over 33 relief appearances spanning 27 2/3 innings of work for Boston.

Strahm’s return would be a welcomed one for the Red Sox. As things stand currently, Austin Davis is the only active lefty in Boston’s bullpen. Davis owns an ERA of 13.15 in his last 15 outings dating back to July 8.

(Picture of Matt Strahm: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox release Hansel Robles

The Red Sox have released veteran reliever Hansel Robles, the team announced earlier Saturday afternoon.

Robles was designated for assignment on Wednesday so that top pitching prospect Brayan Bello could be added to the big-league roster ahead of his big-league debut. The move also created a space on the 40-man roster for the addition of Michael Feliz, who has since been designated for assignment himself.

Originally acquired from the Twins at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for Alex Scherff, Robles quickly became one of Alex Cora’s most trusted relievers during the latter half of the 2021 season. After making 14 straight scoreless appearances in September and being heavily relied upon during the playoffs, Robles was brought back on a minor-league contract in March.

It was therefore no surprise that the 31-year-old right-hander made Boston’s Opening Day roster out of spring training, thus locking him into a guaranteed salary of $2.25 million for the 2022 campaign.

Robles got his first full season in a Red Sox uniform off to a solid start, allowing just one earned run across nine April appearances. Things began to take a turn for the worst in May, though, and those struggles were compounded by a trip to the injured list (back spasms) that lasted about two weeks.

Upon returning from the IL on June 9, Robles gave up runs in five of his next 10 outings, bringing his ERA on the season up to 5.84 and his FIP up to 5.74. During this rough stretch, Robles’ fastball velocity was down from where it usually was. He lost his spot on the 40-man roster after giving up a run in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Rays at Fenway Park.

Given the fact that any team that claimed Robles would be on the hook for the rest of his 2022 salary, it was not surprising to see that the Dominican-born righty cleared waivers. Since he has accrued enough major-league service time, he exercised his right to reject an outright assignment to the minor-leagues in favor of free agency.

Now free to sign with whichever club he chooses, Robles will still be collecting from the Red Sox until the end the season.

(Picture of Hansel Robles: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox select Kaleb Ort from Triple-A Worcester, designate Michael Feliz for assignment

The Red Sox have selected the contract of right-handed reliever Kaleb Ort from Triple-A Worcester. In a corresponding move, fellow right-hander Michael Feliz has been designated for assignment, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Ort is expected to be activated ahead of Saturday’s game against the Yankees at Fenway Park. The 30-year-old made his major-league debut for Boston last September, appearing in one game as a COVID-related substitute while the club was in Seattle.

Originally acquired from the Yankees in the minor-league phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, Ort has spent the vast majority of the last two seasons with the WooSox. This year alone, the Michigan-born righty has posted a 3.12 ERA and 2.62 FIP with 47 strikeouts to 16 walks over 33 relief appearances spanning 34 2/3 innings of work.

Undrafted out of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Ort initially signed with the Diamondbacks out of independent ball in 2016 but was released the following spring. He then latched on with the Yankees in May 2017 and spent the next three-plus years in the organization before getting scooped up by the Red Sox in December 2020.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Ort may not be much of a prospect at this point, but he has still proven to be an effective weapon out of Worcester’s bullpen the last two seasons thanks to a two-pitch mix that consists of a high-90s fastball and whiff-inducing slider.

Feliz, meanwhile, was added to Boston’s 40-man roster on Thursday and made his 2022 debut in Friday’s 12-5 loss to the Yankees. The 29-year-old relieved starter Connor Seabold and allowed two runs (one earned) on one hit, two walks, and four strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings. Thirty-four of the 57 pitches he threw went for strikes.

The Sox will now have the next seven days to either trade, release, or waive Feliz, who has accrued enough service time to reject an outright assignment to the minor-leagues in favor of free agency.

(Picture of Kaleb Ort: Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Red Sox place Matt Strahm on COVID-19 related injured list, recall Hirokazu Sawamura from Triple-A Worcester

Before wrapping up their five-game series against the Orioles at Fenway Park on Monday night, the Red Sox placed left-handed reliever Matt Strahm on the COVID-19 related injured list.

In a corresponding move, right-handed reliever Hirokazu Sawamura was recalled from Triple-A Worcester, the team announced.

At this time, it is not yet clear if Strahm has tested positive for COVID-19 or is simply experiencing virus-like symptoms. Through 18 relief appearances this season, the 30-year-old southpaw has posted a 3.68 ERA and 1.77 FIP with 16 strikeouts to three walks over 14 2/3 innings of work.

Sawamura, meanwhile, returns from Worcester after being optioned there on Saturday. Unsurprisingly, the Japanese-born righty did not get into a game with the WooSox. This season with the big-league club, he has produced a 3.60 ERA and 3.47 FIP to go along with 13 strikeouts to six walks across 18 appearances spanning 15 innings pitched.

Following Monday’s roster move, the Red Sox will now be without Strahm and Hansel Robles (on the 10-day injured list due to back spasms) for the time being. Alex Cora’s bullpen currently consists of the likes of Sawamura, Matt Barnes, Jake Diekman, Austin Davis, John Schreiber, Tyler Danish, Ryan Brasier and Phillips Valdez. Tanner Houck could be included there, too, but he is not available to pitch on Monday, per Cora.

(Picture of Matt Strahm: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Rafael Devers homers twice as Red Sox erase 5-run deficit and come from behind to beat Mariners, 6-5

The Red Sox once again fell behind early against the Mariners on Saturday but battled their way back at Fenway Park. Boston defeated Seattle by a final score of 6-5 to win their fourth straight game and third consecutive series while improving to 18-22 on the season.

Before the Sox could even take their first at-bats of the afternoon, they already found themselves trailing by four runs. Garrett Whitlock, making his sixth start of the year, allowed the Mariners to score four times in the top half of the first inning.

After getting through a scoreless second inning, the right-hander ran into more trouble in the third by giving up back-to-back two-out hits to Mike Ford and Luis Torrens, which resulted in another Seattle run crossing the plate.

The third would prove to be Whitlock’s final inning of work, as he wound up surrendering a season-high five earned runs on 10 hits, no walks, and three strikeouts on 71 pitches (48 strikes). The 25-year-old’s ERA now sits at 3.58.

To that point in the contest, the Boston lineup had yet to do anything of significance against opposing starter Chris Flexen. That changed in the bottom half of the third though, as Rafael Devers got his productive day at the plate started by crushing a 413-foot solo shot into the bleachers to get his side on the board and make it a 5-1 ballgame.

Fast forward to the fifth, after Tyler Danish had hurled two scoreless frames out of the Sox bullpen, and Devers struck again. Following a leadoff double from Enrique Hernandez, the left-handed slugger took Flexen 386 feet over the Green Monster for his second big fly of the game and ninth of the season.

Devers’ two-run blast, which had an exit velocity of 102.1 mph, cut the deficit down to two runs at 5-3. But the Red Sox were not done there. A J.D. Martinez double and Xander Bogaerts single chased Flexen from the contest and put runners on the corners for Bobby Dalbec, who greeted new Mariners reliever Sergio Romo by lifting an RBI single to center field to drive in Martinez and move Bogaerts up to third. Trevor Story followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Bogaerts to tie things up at five runs apiece.

From there, Jake Diekman punched out the side in the sixth, Hansel Robles worked his way around a two-out double in the seventh, and John Schreiber retired the only three batters he faced in the top of the eighth to keep the 5-5 tie intact.

With one out in the bottom half of the eighth, Franchy Cordero laced a 110.5 mph triple off the Green Monster to put the potential go-ahead run in scoring position for Christian Vazquez, who came through with the game-winning single off Drew Steckenrider that plated Cordero and gave the Sox a 6-5 lead.

Looking to protect that lead, Red Sox manager Alex Cora called upon Matt Barnes to take the mound in the ninth inning. Barnes, in turn, needed just 15 pitches (and a little defensive help from Hernandez) to slam the door shut on the Mariners and notch his second save of the season.

All told, five Boston relievers (Danish, Diekman, Robles, Schreiber, and Barnes) combined to toss six shutout innings in relief of Whitlock on Saturday. The Red Sox lineup, meanwhile, went 4-for-6 with runners in scoring position while putting together their largest comeback win of the season thus far.

Next up: Gilbert vs. Eovaldi in series finale

The Red Sox will look to close out the weekend with a four-game sweep over the Mariners on Sunday afternoon. Veteran right-hander Nathan Eovaldi will get the start for Boston opposite fellow righty Logan Gilbert for Seattle.

First pitch from Fenway Park is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Josh Taylor suffers setback while rehabbing from back strain

Red Sox reliever Josh Taylor suffered a setback while rehabbing his back injury and has been temporarily shut down from throwing, manager Alex Cora announced before Tuesday’s game against the Angels at Fenway Park.

Taylor, who had been out on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Worcester, is back with the Red Sox to receive treatment and undergo tests in Boston.

When speaking with reporters (including MassLive.com’s Cotillo) on Tuesday, Cora revealed that Taylor’s back locked up on him recently, leaving the team with no choice but to return him from his rehab assignment.

“He had a setback a few days ago,” Cora said. “Feels better today, but of course, we had to take him off his rehab assignment. We’re going through testing and all that stuff. We’ll know more during the week.”

Taylor began the season on the 10-day injured list due to a low back strain that first began bothering him last September and was first sent out on a rehab assignment with Worcester on April 17. The left-hander got the start for the WooSox against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Polar Park that afternoon and allowed one run (on a solo home run) in his lone inning of work. He was then shut down for the next six days after being identified as a close contact to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.

On April 24, Taylor returned to the mound — this time for Double-A Portland — and once again served as an opener. The 29-year-old surrendered two runs on three hits and one strikeout while recording the first two outs of the Sea Dogs’ 13-5 win over the Binghamton Rumble Ponies at Hadlock Field. Three days later, he was back in action for the WooSox and tossed a scoreless fifth inning in the second game of a doubleheader against the Buffalo Bisons.

Since then, Taylor has not appeared in a game and is not close to doing so anytime soon. As noted by Cotillo, Cora previously said the hope was for Taylor to make five or six rehab outings before being activated, so the southpaw will presumably need to start from scratch once he is cleared to resume throwing.

“Let’s see how it goes in the upcoming days and how it goes with testing and all that stuff,” said Cora. “Then we’ll decide what we do with him.”

(Picture of Josh Taylor: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Derek Holland opts out of minor-league deal with Red Sox to become free agent

Derek Holland has opted out of his minor-league contract with the Red Sox and is now a free agent, as was first reported by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo earlier Sunday morning.

Holland, 35, originally signed a minor-league deal with Boston back in March with the hopes of earning a bullpen spot with the team out of spring training. When he was informed that he would not be making the Sox’ Opening Day roster, the veteran left-hander elected to remain in the organization and begin the season with Triple-A Worcester.

In 10 relief appearances for the WooSox, Holland posted a 6.35 ERA to go along with 13 strikeouts to seven walks over 11 1/3 innings of work. Given that the Red Sox already have lefties like Austin Davis, Jake Diekman, and Matt Strahm in their bullpen with another southpaw rehabbing from injury in Josh Taylor, adding Holland to the major-league mix was clearly not a priority for the club.

Instead, Holland — who had multiple opt-out clauses in his contract since he was an article XX(B) free agent — will once again hit the open market and look to latch on elsewhere.

A former 25th-round draft pick with 13 seasons of big-league experience under his belt, Holland his pitched for the Rangers (2009-2016), White Sox (2017), Giants (2018-2019), Cubs (2019), Pirates (2020), and Tigers (2021). With Detroit last year, he produced a 5.07 ERA and 3.96 FIP across 39 appearances (one start) spanning 49 2/3 innings.

(Picture of Derek Holland: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)