Red Sox Rookie Tanner Houck Planning on Attacking Strike Zone Against Yankees in First Fenway Park Start

Red Sox rookie right-hander Tanner Houck is coming off a superb major-league debut against the Marlins last Tuesday in which he collected seven strikeouts over five scoreless innings en route to picking up his first career victory.

Following that impressive showing, a new challenge for Houck awaits on Sunday, as the 24-year-old hurler will be going up against a red-hot Yankees team in the finale of a three-game series at Fenway Park.

With a 6-5, 12-inning win over Boston on Friday, New York extended their current winning streak to a season-best nine consecutive games. Over that dominant stretch, which goes back to September 9, the Bronx Bombers are slashing an absurd .314/.401/.711 against opposing right-handed pitchers while clubbing 25 home runs and posting a 194 wRC+. These numbers are something Houck will have to keep in mind when he takes the Fenway Park mound for the first time.

“For me, nothing really changes,” Houck said of his mindset going into his first home start of the season. “As long as you go out there and attack the zone, I think good things happen. If you go right at people, get them on their heels early, it sets up a lot more. Typically, whenever you’re behind in the count, a lot of people become more dangerous. So, go out there, attack right away and I’ll definitely real confident.”

In his debut against Miami last Tuesday, Houck faced 19 batters. Among those 19 batters, the former first-round pick fell behind the count on several occasions, but he did manage to limit the opposition to just three walks while mixing in his four-seam and split-finger fastball as well as his sinker and slider.

Limiting traffic on the base paths could prove to be pivotal for the Illinois native on Sunday, as the Yankees have accrued the second-highest walk percentage in the American League (11.9%) going back to the start of their current winning streak.

To construct a proper game plan for a team as dangerous as New York, Houck will need to be diligent in his preparations. He does however have one tool that he did not have available to him in the minor-leagues: advanced analytics.

“It’s definitely got its new challenges with everything,” the Mizzou product said of his introduction to the majors. “There’s a lot more scouting report info to take in, which I love. Being able to go out there and know my opponent just a little bit more helps me set up a game plan a lot.”

On top of the insights he has received from the Red Sox’ analytics department, Houck has also gotten some helpful advice from fellow former Missouri Tigers in the majors, such as Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Rangers right-hander Kyle Gibson.

“Having guys like that reach out is truly an honor,” Houck added. “I’m truly blessed to be a part of that brotherhood. I’ve definitely gotten to talk to Gibson and Scherzer over the years having that Mizzou connection, and just kind of bouncing ideas off them is truly great. It’s more people to learn from and this is a game that you got to learn from your elders a little bit, see what they’ve done and just try to learn from that.”

Houck will get the ball against the Yankees and fellow rookie righty Deivi Garcia on Sunday afternoon.

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.

Red Sox Reliever Matt Barnes Says He Has ‘Some Stuff to Figure Out’ After Tough Start to 2020 Season

The Red Sox’ first road trip of the 2020 season has not been very kind to one Matt Barnes.

On Thursday, the right-hander needed 37 pitches to work out of a bases loaded jam he got himself into in the eighth inning of an eventual 4-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field.

On Sunday, Barnes was not so fortunate, as he entered the eighth inning of a game his side had a 7-6 lead in. By the time he was done though, the 30-year-old hurler had seen that one-run lead turn into a two-run deficit. The main reason behind that was after issuing a two-out walk to Mike Tauchman, the Yankees No. 9 hitter, Barnes allowed Tauchman to steal second before allowing D.J. LeMahieu to tie the game on an RBI single to center field.

Just a few moments later, Barnes fell behind in the count against the ever-dangerous Aaron Judge, who had already gone deep earlier that night.

After falling behind 2-0 to Judge, Barnes or the Red Sox bench could have opted to put the Yankees slugger on base intentionally to avoid the worst-case scenario. Instead, Barnes hung an 84 MPH curveball on the inner half of the plate, and Judge made him pay for the mistaken location by crushing a 468-foot two-run blast deep to left field.

That put the Yankees up 9-7, and it would result in Barnes getting hit with his first loss and blown save of the season later on. The UCONN product didn’t hold back on the self-criticism during his postgame media availability.

“Can’t walk (Tauchman). Can’t walk the nine-hole hitter,” Barnes said via a Zoom call late Sunday night. In regards to serving up that two-run blast to Judge, Barnes added: “Just a poor sequence of events there.”

Through his first four relief appearances of 2020, Barnes has surrendered four earned runs on five hits (two home runs), four walks, and four strikeouts over four innings pitched. Opponents are currently slashing .313/.476/.688 off the former first-round pick. That’s not going to cut it in the long-term.

“I’ve got some stuff to figure out for sure,” Barnes added Sunday. “Hasn’t been as clean as I would have liked through the first four innings.”

Per Statcast, Barnes has relied on his curveball exactly 61% of the time he has been on the mound this season. Although it’s still relatively early, it’s becoming more clear that Barnes’ curve in 2020 is not nearly as effective as it was in 2019. That being the case because last season, opponents slugged a measly .272 off the offspeed pitch. This season, opponents are slugging .721 off it.

That is just one of several examples showing the decline in Barnes’ curveball, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that the flame-throwing right-hander can bounce back from this slump as long as he figures out what he needs to figure out.

At the top of his game, Barnes is a quality set-up man, and just about every club could use one of those. Especially the Red Sox.

 

Red Sox Pitching Coach Dave Bush Tells His Pitchers to Maintain ‘Normal Throwing Programs’ While Awaiting MLB’s Return

At this point exactly one year ago, Red Sox pitchers had combined to throw exactly 411 innings through the club’s first 46 games of the 2019 season.

Flash forward to 2020, and that number of innings pitched on the same date stands at zero, and it appears that it will stay at zero until at least early July.

First-year Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush, who was appointed to the position last October in place of Dana LeVangie, would be learning the ropes of his new post under normal circumstances. Instead, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has put Major League Baseball on hold for the time being, Bush, like many across the sport, have to find new ways to coach up his players.

In a recent conversation with The Athletic’s Peter Gammons, Bush, 40, said that he has told the Boston pitching staff to stick with “normal throwing programs” until they know when they can get back to a spring training setting and can “begin a supervised program for the season” from there.

This is the same sort of sentiment Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom echoed earlier this month in a radio interview with WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria regarding the pandemic-induced shutdown’s effect on players.

“Even if we have a spring training, however long that spring training is, guys will need to get ramped up well in advance of that to make sure they’re in shape and make sure they can safely get back up to ready to roll whenever the season does start,” he said. “We are so used to working backward from a specific start date and we can’t do that right now. So we’re trying to keep them at a level that is responsible where we’re not trying to get them at too high a gear and then ask them to hold. But we also want to make sure they don’t run out of time to get up to speed if and when we do get a specific start date. So we’re just trying to find that happy medium.”

The conventional version of spring training was suspended by MLB on March 13th. The majority of Red Sox players left Fort Myers at the time to return to their respective homes, but it appears that some individuals, such as Alex Verdugo and Chris Sale, have returned to work out at the Fenway South complex in recent weeks. More could return relatively soon, too, considering how Florida has been loosening its COVID-19-related restrictions across the state.

According to Gammons, MLB clubs are currently terrified of two things. The first being a potential second wave of the coronavirus and all the ramifications that come with it, and the second being “that the re-ramping-up process, coming four-plus months after the initial ramping-up process, will result in a rash of injuries.”

To add on to that, Gammons writes, “Two prominent orthopedic surgeons with significant baseball experience have predicted waiting lines at the doors of Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Neal ElAttrache and the many other physicians who have preserved so many careers.”

The re-ramping up process that Gammons mentions should be a concern for pitching coaches and general managers across the league. I can’t say for sure, but it seems like these guys went into ‘prepare for the season mode’ around the same time they are accustomed to and then all of a sudden were told to go into ‘offseason mode’ just like that. I’m no pitching guru, but disrupting someone’s routine like that has to have negative connotations, right?

For now, it will be fascinating to see how Bush continues to coach his pitching staff without being in the same physical location as them.

Red Sox Hire Dave Bush to Be New Pitching Coach

The Red Sox have reportedly hired pitching analyst and minor league coordinator Dave Bush to be their new pitching coach, according to Barstool Sports’ Jared Carrabis and confirmed by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Identified as the “clear front-runner” for the role by The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier earlier in the week, Bush has been with the Red Sox’ organization since 2016.

Going back to his playing days, the soon to be 40-year-old right-hander was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round of the 2002 amateur draft out of Wake Forest University.

In 211 career big league appearances (187 starts) between Toronto, Milwaukee, Texas, and Toronto again from 2004 until April 7th, 2013, Bush posted an ERA of 4.73 and FIP of 4.69 over 1,141 1/3 total innings pitched. He finished eighth in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2004.

Per the Sox’ 2019 media guide, Bush, was promoted to pitching performance coordinator in January. He also spent two years coaching overseas through MLB International and for the Chinese and South African national teams before joining the Sox three years ago.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Bush will be taking over for former Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie, who was reassigned as a pro scout for the club earlier in the month.

This news also comes just two days after the Sox formally introduced Chaim Bloom as their new chief baseball officer, so it would be interesting to see how much influence he had in this decision given the notion that Boston is headed towards a more analytics-driven approach with their pitching staff.

Kevin Walker was named assistant pitching coach on Thursday.