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 Strike Out 11 Times Against Max Scherzer, Fall To Nationals 10-2

Celebrating Jackie Robinson Day four months later than usual on Friday night, the Red Sox fell to the Nationals by a final score of 7-1 at Fenway Park to drop to 10-22 on the year.

Martin Perez made his seventh start of the season for Boston in this one as he was coming off his best outing of 2020 thus far in his last time out against the Orioles.

Working just four innings this time around, the left-hander got rocked for six runs, all of which were earned, on eight hits and no walks to go along with one lone strikeout on the night.

The first five of those Washington tallies came in the top of the third, when after retiring the first six hitters he faced rather easily, Perez yielded a leadoff single to Josh Harrison.

That simple base hit would wind up being Perez’s undoing, as it was followed by a pair of one-out doubles from Victor Robles and Trea Turner, which brought in two runs, and a pair of one-out home runs from Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick, which brought in three additional home runs to put the Sox in a 5-0 hole.

In the fourth, the Venezuelan southpaw saw another Nationals run cross the plate when with two outs in the frame, runners on the corners, and Juan Soto at the plate, the speedy Trea Turner attempted, and failed, to steal second base, but gave Victor Robles enough time to score from third before getting tagged out to retire the side. That simultaneously marked the end of Perez’s evening as well.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 82 (55 strikes), the 29-year-old hurler relied on his cutter 35% of the time he was on the mound Friday, inducing zero swings and misses with the pitch. He also topped out at 95 mph with his heater, a pitch thrown 21 times.

Hit with his fourth losing decision while raising his ERA on the season to 4.58, Perez will look to rebound in his next time out, which should come against the Braves on Wednesday or Blue Jays on Thursday depending on how many days of rest he gets.

In relief of Perez, right-hander Robert Stock got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen, and he faced the minimum in a scoreless top of the fifth before surrendering one run on two hits, one of which was an infield single, and a walk in the sixth, which increased his side’s deficit to six runs.

From there, Jeffrey Springs, similarly enough to Stock, didn’t give up anything in his first frame of work in the seventh, but served up a two-run blast to Josh Harrison and an RBI double to Turner in the eighth before getting out of the inning. Josh Taylor, meanwhile, stranded a pair of base runners in an otherwise clean ninth to keep the Nats at 10 runs. It didn’t make too much of a difference in the end, but it was still something.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up their most accomplished opponent thus far in Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who was making his first appearance at Fenway Park since 2014.

Despite coming into the weekend with a 4.31 ERA through his first six starts of the season, the 36-year-old was dominant on Friday.

The only damage the Boston bats were able to do off Scherzer came in their half of the third inning.

There, after Alex Verdugo reached base on a two-out single, Rafael Devers drove the outfielder in on a blistering, 108 mph run-scoring double to the gap in left center field, which actually happened to be the 100th two-base hit of the 23-year-old’s young career.

Other than that, though, the Sox could not get anything going against Scherzer. Not even a single base on balls as the three-time Cy Young Award winner fanned 11 over six strong innings of work.

When Scherzer’s night ended after those six frames, the Washington bullpen didn’t make things any easier for the Red Sox, either.

As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until the bottom half of the ninth when Boston got on the board again. That came courtesy of a Kevin Pillar RBI single to drive in Tzu-Wei Lin.

Alas, even after loading the bases with two outs, Verdugo flew out to shallow center field, and 10-2 would go down as Friday’s final score.

Some notes and observations from this defeat:

The Red Sox are now 4-11 at Fenway Park this season.

The Red Sox went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position on Friday and left eight runners on base as a team.

Jackie Bradley Jr. (.680) now has a higher OPS than J.D. Martinez (.663)

From The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier:

Next up for the Red Sox, it’s the middle game of this three-game weekend series against the defending World Series champs.

Right-hander Chris Mazza will be serving as the opener for Boston, while veteran righty and former Red Sox minor-leaguer Anibal Sanchez will be doing the same for Washington.

A roster move will have to be made in order to add Mazza, who last started on August 16 against the Yankees, to the active roster.

Sanchez, meanwhile, will be making just his second career start at Fenway Park since debuting with the Marlins back in 2006.

Originally signed by Boston as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2001, the now 36-year-old Sanchez was part of the trade that brought Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to the Red Sox in 2005.

First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Red Sox looking to halt a two-game skid.

RIP, Chadwick Boseman.

Red Sox Lineup: Going up Against Nationals Ace Max Scherzer on Jackie Robinson Day

After deciding to postpone Thursday’s game against the Blue Jays in protest of the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin, the Red Sox will open up a 10-game homestand and three-game weekend series against the Nationals on Friday.

Left-hander Martin Perez will be making his seventh start of the season for Boston, and he’ll be opposed by vaunted right-hander Max Scherzer for Washington.

Perez is coming off his best outing of the year in which he held the Orioles to one run on five hits, one walk, and six strikeouts over seven strong innings of work last Saturday.

More significantly, the Venezuelan southpaw topped out at 95 mph with his four-seam fastball. He credits that increase in velocity to a revamped weight-lifting routine.

In two lifetime starts against the defending World Series champion Nationals, Perez owns a career 6.30 ERA and .841 OPS against over 10 total innings pitched.

Scherzer, meanwhile, has not been at his best so far this season even though the Nationals are 4-2 in his six starts.

Through his first six outings of 2020, the three-time Cy Young Award winner has posted a 4.31 ERA and 3.76 FIP over 31 1/3 frames of work.

Despite those somewhat surprising numbers, Scherzer does have a strong track record at Fenway Park, as the 36-year-old hurler owns a lifetime 3.13 ERA and .711 OPS against in five prior outings and 31 2/3 innings pitched in Boston.

Here is how the Red Sox will be lining up behind Perez and against Scherzer to begin things on Jackie Robinson Day:

Among the nine hitters that make up this lineup we have grown accustomed to seeing, J.D. Martinez and Kevin Pillar have taken Scherzer deep twice before in their careers, while Mitch Moreland has one career homer off the Nats ace.

Also worth noting here is the fact that Alex Verdugo has two hits in three career at-bats while facing off against Scherzer, which is somewhat prevalent considering the 24-year-old is leading off for Boston in this one.

First pitch Friday, which again is Jackie Robinson Day, between the previous two World Series champions is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. eastern time on NESN and WEEI. Red Sox going for win No. 11 in game No. 32.

Tzu-Wei Lin Homers, Collects Three RBI in Seven-Run Fourth as #RedSox Cruise past Nationals

The Red Sox improved to 6-5 in Grapefruit League play on Tuesday following an 8-4 win over the Washington Nationals in West Palm Beach for their third consecutive victory.

Hector Velazquez got the start in this one five days after his last outing, which also came against the Nationals.

This time out, the right-hander had a bit of an easier time of things, limiting Washington to one run on four hits, no walks, and one HBP while striking out three over two-and-two-thirds innings of work.

After allowing two of the first four hitters he faced in the third to reach base and plate the Nationals’ first run of the afternoon, Velazquez’s day came to an end and in came right-hander Trevor Kelley.

Kelley retired the only hitter he faced, Victor Robles, to end Washington’s rally in the third, which ended up being good enough to notch his first winning decision of the spring.

From there, Bobby Poyner, Travis Lakins, Jenrry Mejia, Domingo Tapia, and Josh Taylor combined to surrender three runs on six hits and two walks to go along with four strikeouts.

Mejia, who last pitched five days ago like Velazquez, allowed the first three hitters he faced to reach base in the seventh, which resulted in the Nationals scoring their second and third runs of the day on an Austin Vloth two RBI single.

The ex-Met finished the inning without surrendering another run with the help of a double play, but it was far from the three-strikeout performance he put together in his Red Sox debut.

Taylor, who was responsible for the ninth and final inning, wrapped things up on Tuesday by allowing another Nats run to score on an additional two hits before securing the victory for Boston by getting Chuck Taylor to line out to Cole Sturgeon.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was once again matched up against ace right-hander Max Scherzer for the Nationals.

After shutting the Boston bats out over three frames of work last Thursday, the three-time Cy Young Award winner did not have that dominating of an outing today.

Instead, Scherzer finally cracked in the fourth inning this time around, as leadoff man Tzu-Wei Lin got the scoring started for the Red Sox by launching a solo home run, his first of the spring.

That homer would turn out to be the catalyst of a seven-run inning from Boston, as Bobby Dalbec, Chad De La Guerra, and Tate Matheny went back-to-back-to-back with RBI base knocks, all while chasing Scherzer from this contest.

And the cherry on top of this offensive onslaught came from Lin as well, who drove in De La Guerra and Matheny on a two RBI single off of journeyman hurler Vidal Nuno.

Fast forward all the way to the top half of the seventh, and a Blake Swihart leadoff single would later result in Boston’s final run of the afternoon coming around to score on an RBI double off the bat of Oscar Hernandez to essentially put this contest away at 8-3.

As the final score indicates, the Nationals would score another run in their half of the ninth. So, in case you are confused, the final score of this one was 8-4.

Some notes from this win:

Through 16 at bats this spring, Tzu-Wei Lin is slashing .438/.500/.813 with one home run and five RBI.

In his first game back since leaving Red Sox camp for a few days to remember his brother, Blake Swihart went 2/4 with a pair of singles and two runs scored batting second and playing first.

Next up for the Red Sox, they head back to JetBlue Park to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a nationally televised game on ESPN.

RHP Nick Kingham will make the start for Pittsburgh, while fellow right-hander will do the same for Boston.

First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 1:05 PM ET. Again, ESPN is the way to go.

 

Jackie Bradley Jr. Stays Hot as #RedSox Run Away with 13-5 Win over Nationals

The Red Sox improved to 3-3 in Grapefruit League play on Thursday with a 13-5 victory over the Washington Nationals at JetBlue Park.

Matched up against three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer for the Nats, Hector Velazquez made his first official appearance of the spring and got the starting nod for this one.

Tossing two full innings, the right-hander surrendered three earned runs, all of which came in the top half of the second, on four hits and one strikeout. If there’s a positive to be taken out of Velazquez’s outing, it’s that he did not walk a batter.

30th-ranked prospect Denyi Reyes followed Velazquez, and he did not fare much better in the two frames he appeared in. The former international signee out of the Dominican Republic gave up a pair of runs himself on three hits and three walks heading into the middle of the fourth inning.

From there, Red Sox pitching settled down a bit, as Ryan Weber, Josh Smith, and Jenrry Mejia combined to toss four innings of scoreless baseball to close this contest out.

Most impressive out of these performances would have to go to Mejia. The former Mets reliever who was once banned from the game struck out all three hitters he faced in the ninth.

On the other side of things, as I mentioned earlier, the Red Sox lineup, headed by Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts, was matched up against Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

“Mad Max,” as they fondly call him in the nation’s capital, was essentially lights out to start this one out, facing one over the minimum in three scoreless innings of work to go along with four punch outs.

It was not until the fourth inning when the Red Sox started to get going, with right-hander Erick Fedde taking over for Washington.

Four consecutive one out hits from Bradley Jr., Bogaerts, Brock Holt, and Blake Swihart initially cut Boston’s deficit from five runs to three.

Swihart, who tragically lost his brother on Wednesday, surprisingly played the day after and was rewarded with a hard-hit opposite field RBI single.

Sam Travis would come in to pinch run for Swihart following that at bat, and the backstop was greeted with a hug from Red Sox manager Alex Cora upon returning to the home dugout.

An inning later, Boston’s bats exploded for EIGHT runs in the fifth on a Bradley Jr. RBI single, a Bogaerts RBI double, a three-run home run off the bat of Brock Holt…

…a Tate Matheny RBI base knock, and finally, a Cole Sturgeon RBI three-bagger to make it a 10-5 game at that point. In total, the Red Sox sent 12 hitters to the plate in their half of the fifth.

The fun did not stop there though, as Austin Rei and Jeremy Rivera tacked on an additional three runs to give their club a 13-5 advantage. That would go on to be the final score in this one.

One note from this win:

Jackie Bradley Jr. finished the afternoon 3/3 with one double and one RBI. So far this spring, he’s slashing .750/.750/1.625 with two home runs and three RBI over eight at bats.

Next up for the Red Sox is a short trip to the CenturyLink Sports Complex to face off against the Minnesota Twins in the second game of the annual Mayor’s Cup. Boston defeated the Twins the last time these two sides played last sunday by a final score of 8-5.

Set to pitch for the Red Sox in this one is left-hander Josh Taylor. He’ll be opposed by former Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda, who has not pitched in a big league game since 2017 following Tommy John surgery that year.

First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 1:05 PM ET. This game will be aired on MLB Network, not NESN.

 

Chris Sale Named All-Star Game Starting Pitcher for Third Consecutive Year.

For the third straight season, Red Sox ace Chris Sale will get the nod for the American League in this year’s All-Star Game in Washington D.C.

Going up against Max Scherzer, Sale becomes the first Red Sox pitcher to start in multiple All-Star Games.

The last time a pitcher started in as many as three consecutive All-Star Games came when Robin Roberts of the Philadelphia Phillies did it from 1953-1955.

In exactly 20 starts this season, Sale owns a 2.23 ERA and 2.17 FIP to go along with 188 strikeouts in 129 innings pitched.

On the flip side, representing the host Washington Nationals, Max Scherzer will make his sixth appearance in an All-Star Game. At the age of 33, Scherzer has been as dominant as ever, as he has punched out 182 batters in 134.2 innings pitched this season.

First pitch of the 2018 All-Star Game is scheduled for 8:00 PM on FOX.

RECAP: Rick Porcello Tosses Six Innings, Drives in Three Runs as #RedSox Open up Series in D.C. with a 4-3 Win.

Coming off a disappointing weekend in New York in which they could only pick up one win in three tries against the Yankees, the Red Sox headed south to the nation’s capital to take on the NL East’s Washington Nationals. Entering Monday with a record of 42-40, the Nationals have been far from the team they were expected to be going into the season. But with Max Scherzer on the mound for the opener, runs were more than likely going to be hard to come across for Boston.

Speaking of Scherzer, one of his better friends made his 18th start of the season for the Red Sox last night in Rick Porcello. We’ll get into Porcello’s day at the plate later, but for now, let’s just stick to pitching.

Since he was going up against one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, I was interested to see how Porcello would deal if he did not have much of a lead to work with. But thanks to his own efforts with a bat in his hands, the righty got some run support in the second and would not have to look back.

In six full innings pitched, Porcello surrendered two runs, both on solo shots, while scattering seven hits, walking two, and racking up five strikeouts on the night.

Throughout those six frames of work, the only real mistakes the New Jersey native came in the bottom halves of the third and sixth innings. Before that, Porcello escaped a potential jam in the second with some help from Mookie Betts’ cannon of an arm.

The first mistake came on a leadoff homer off the bat of Nats third baseman Anthony Rendon in the fourth, and the second came on a one out solo homer from second baseman Daniel Murphy in Porcello’s final inning.

Other than that, Porcello had himself a solid night on the mound. Can’t get too upset about giving up two solo home runs at a ballpark he had never pitched in before Monday.

Finishing with 92 pitches (66 strikes), the 29 year-old hurler went to his two-seam fastball 29% of the time last night and topped out at 92 MPH with his four-seamer. He’ll look to build on a successful start to July in his next start against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday.

In relief of Porcello, the Red Sox bullpen had a bit of a rough go at it over the last three innings of Monday night’s contest.

Matt Barnes was first up in the seventh, and he held Washington scoreless while leaving two baserunners at first and second to pick up his 16th hold of the season.

For the eighth inning, Joe Kelly got his July off to a rough start by serving up a 439 foot mammoth shot to Bryce Harper on the third pitch of the at bat to make it a one run game.

After striking out the next two batters he faced, Kelly walked Mark Reynolds on six pitches to put a runner on first, which consequently ended his night.

Needing four more outs to pick up the win, Alex Cora turned to his closer for the longer than usual save opportunity. Craig Kimbrel, who did not see the mound once over the weekend in New York, got the Red Sox out of the eighth by getting Michael A. Taylor to fly out to right field.

While recording the first two outs of the ninth in fairly simple fashion, the last out to pick up the save was somewhat of a challenge for the Red Sox closer. He walked Juan Soto on eight pitches to put the tying run on base, although it wasn’t entirely his fault.

With Anthony Rendon, who had already homered in this game, at the plate now, Kimbrel fell behind 3-0 on the first three pitches of the at bat. Luckily though, Rendon must have gotten the green light from the Nationals bench, because he swung on the next pitch, and although he made hard contact (105 MPH off the bat), lined out to Andrew Benintendi to left to wrap this thing up. Save #25 in the books for Kimbrel.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup followed the instructions on how to score runs off elite pitchers by getting to Max Scherzer early.

In fact, Rick Porcello helped his own cause by coming up clutch after Scherzer loaded the bases by intentionally walking Jackie Bradley Jr., the number eight man in the Red Sox lineup.

To make the Nationals pay for that, Porcello ripped a scorching double over everyone’s head in left field off his old friend and former rotation mate. Unloading the bases toput his team up by three runs early, Porcello came away with his first RBI (3) since 2009.

Those were the only runs the Red Sox could manage off of the Nationals ace, who went on to pick up a quality start despite the bumpy second inning.

Fast forward to the seventh, with Scherzer out of the game and Nationals reliever Brandon Kintzler in. With a one run lead to protect, Mookie Betts added on some insurance by mashing his 21st big fly of the season to lead off the inning.

That 430 foot bomb gave the Red Sox their fourth and final run of the night, and despite some shaky moments in the eighth and ninth innings, that would be all they would need to pick up their 57th win of the year.

Some notes from this W:

Over his last 12 appearances, Joe Kelly has tossed 9.1 innings. In those 9.1 innings, he owns a 8.68 ERA and a .300 BAA. Not great.

From @SoxNotes: Last night marked the 7th time Mookie Betts homered and recorded an outfield assist in the same game. According to , that is tied for the most such games in the majors since the start of 2015.

Since joining the Red Sox prior to the 2015 season, Rick Porcello is slashing .143/.143/.214 with two hits and three RBI.

In the middle game of this series, it will be Brian Johnson making his second start in Steven Wright’s spot in the rotation for the Red Sox. In his previous start, Johnson allowed just one run in four innings pitched against the Los Angeles Angels this past Thursday. He’ll be matched up against Nationals righty Tanner Roark, who has never started against Boston in his career, but does have one relief appearance against them under his belt. One in which he surrendered one earned run in 3.2 innings of work back in 2015. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 PM ET later tonight.