Chris Sale likely to start Game 5 of ALCS for Red Sox, but left-hander will be available out of bullpen for Game 4 vs. Astros

The Red Sox will have Chris Sale available out of their bullpen for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night, though the club is hoping they will be able to stay away from him.

When speaking with reporters (including The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier) at Fenway Park ahead of Game 4, Sox manager Alex Cora said that Sale is penciled in to start Game 5, but the veteran left-hander could pitch in relief of Nick Pivetta on Tuesday if the situation arises.

As noted by Speier, Cora and Co. would prefer to avoid using Sale out of the ‘pen in order to preserve him for what would be his third start of the postseason on Wednesday. If they were forced to use the lefty, though, Cora did indicate that the Red Sox would be able to make the necessary adjustments to their starting rotation.

Through his first two outings of these playoffs, Sale has allowed a total of six earned runs on nine hits, two walks, and one hit batsman to go along with four strikeouts over just 3 2/3 innings of work. That’s good for an ERA of 14.73 and FIP of 6.99.

The 32-year-old is coming off a start against the Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS in which he surrendered one run on five hits, one walk, one HBP and two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings pitched at Minute Maid Park on October 15.

If Sale were to toss an inning of relief on Tuesday night, he would be working on three days rest and would subsequently not be available to start on Wednesday. Assuming he is not used, the seven-time All-Star would then be pitching on seven days rest come Wednesday night.

Per MLB.com’s Ian Browne, Cora likened this situation with Sale to what Boston went through with Pivetta on Monday. Pivetta, like Sale, had been available to work out of the bullpen in Game 3, but his services were not needed since the Sox bested the Astros in a 12-3 blowout win.

Following Monday’s victory, Cora officially named Pivetta as his Game 4 starter. The same sort of thing will likely happen on Tuesday night — with Sale getting tabbed to start Game 5 — so long as the southpaw does not make a relief appearance between now and then.

(Picture of Chris Sale: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox activate Nick Pivetta from COVID-19 related injured list, option Connor Seabold to Triple-A Worcester

Before wrapping up a three-game weekend series against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday, the Red Sox activated right-hander Nick Pivetta from the COVID-19 related injured list.

In a corresponding move, fellow righty Connor Seabold was optioned to Triple-A Worcester, the club announced earlier Sunday afternoon.

Pivetta will get the start in Sunday’s series finale against the White Sox (first pitch is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. eastern time), as he had been held out of action since last week after testing positive for COVID-19 and being placed on the COVID-related injured list as a result.

Despite the positive test, the 28-year-old is vaccinated against the virus, meaning he did not have to quarantine for the typical 10 days so long as he did not exhibit any symptoms, which turns out to be the case.

Ace left-hander Chris Sale was originally slated to go up against his former team on Sunday, but was scratched from that outing earlier this weekend on account of testing positive for COVID-19 himself.

The Red Sox, in turn, will roll with Pivetta, who will be working on 11 days rest since making his last start against the Rays on August 30.

Through 26 starts in his first full season with Boston, the Canadian-born righty has posted a 4.67 ERA and 4.44 FIP to go along with 151 strikeouts to 62 walks over 135 total innings of work. Sunday will mark his first-ever outing at Guaranteed Rate Field.

With Pivetta getting activated, the Sox optioned Seabold back down to Worcester just hours after he made his major-league debut on Saturday night.

The 25-year-old hurler allowed two earned runs on three hits, two walks, and zero strikeouts in three innings pitched. 43 of the 27 pitches Seabold threw went for strikes, and he also averaged 90.5 mph with his four-seam fastball.

In regards to what the immediate future holds for Seabold, Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) that the righty is “going to go back to Worcester and he’s going to start down there.”

Seabold, who turns 26 in January, is regarded by Baseball America as the No. 12 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking sixth among pitchers in the organization.

(Picture of Nick Pivetta: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Red Sox call up pitching prospect Connor Seabold for major-league debut Saturday; Brad Peacock returned to Triple-A Worcester

Before taking on the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Saturday night, the Red Sox recalled right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold from Triple-A Worcester.

In a corresponding move, fellow right-hander Brad Peacock was returned to Worcester to make room for Seabold on the active roster, the club announced earlier Saturday afternoon.

Seabold, 25, is regarded by Baseball America as the No. 12 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking sixth among pitchers in the organization.

The right-hander will make his major-league debut and first career start in Saturday’s contest against the White Sox, as he was one of four players who traveled with the Red Sox to Chicago as part of the team’s taxi squad.

Nick Pivetta was originally in line to get the start on Saturday, but has since had to be scratched from that outing on account of testing positive for COVID-19 last week.

That being said, Pivetta will be able to make his return to the mound and start in place of Chris Sale, who also recently tested positive for coronavirus, in the finale of this three-game weekend series on Sunday.

While Pivetta will take over for Sale on Sunday, Seabold will essentially take over for Pivetta on Sunday.

The Red Sox originally acquired Seabold and Pivetta from the Phillies in a trade that sent relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to the Phillies last August.

The 25-year-old was added to Boston’s 40-man roster in November in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft and was also invited to major-league camp earlier this spring, but had the start of his 2021 season pushed back by approximately 2 1/2 months due to right elbow inflammation.

After a brief rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League, Seabold made his debut for Worcester on July 23. He has posted a 3.67 ERA and 4.17 FIP to go along with 44 strikeouts to 13 walks over eight starts spanning 41 2/3 innings of work for the WooSox since then.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, the California-born righty operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 91-93 mph fastball that tops out at 95 mph, a deceptive 80-82 mph changeup, and an 83-85 mph slider, per his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

Considering the fact that his most recent start for the WooSox came on September 4, it’s safe to assume that Seabold — who will be wearing the No. 67 — will be plenty stretched out for his big-league debut later Saturday night.

With the addition of Seabold to the major-league roster, the Red Sox returned a veteran in the form of Peacock to Worcester.

Boston picked up the 32-year-old in exchange for cash considerations in a minor trade made with the Indians late last month.

Peacock appeared in two games for the Sox, making his first start for the club in their bout against the Rays on August 31 and being used out of the bullpen exactly one week later.

As he makes his way to Worcester, Peacock will look to provide the Red Sox with experienced starting rotation and bullpen depth for the final few weeks of the regular season.

Prior to getting traded, Peacock put up a 7.68 ERA and 5.16 xFIP in addition to 38 strikeouts and 14 walks over 11 appearances (10 starts) and 34 innings pitched with Triple-A Columbus after signing a minor-league pact with Cleveland in June.

(Picture of Connor Seabold: Katie Morrison/MassLive)

Red Sox pitching prospect Connor Seabold to make major-league debut, first career start against White Sox on Saturday

Red Sox manager Alex Cora has yet to officially name a starter for Saturday night’s game against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, though he did shed light on who the team is leaning towards rolling with.

Connor Seabold, one of the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox farm system, will indeed get the starting nod for what will be his major-league debut on Saturday.

“Not yet,” Cora said when asked if the Sox had decided on a starter for Saturday following Friday night’s 4-3 loss to the White Sox. “We’re going to talk about it tonight, but there’s a good chance that it might be Seabold.”

Seabold was one of four players (along with Kaleb Ort, Jack Lopez, and Chris Herrmann) from Triple-A Worcester who traveled with the Red Sox to Chicago as part of the club’s taxi squad.

Nick Pivetta was originally in line to get the start for Boston in Saturday’s bout with Chicago, but has since been ruled out on account of testing positive for COVID-19.

While there still remains a chance that Pivetta could start in place of Chris Sale — who was placed on the COVID-19 related injured list on Friday after testing positive for the virus on Thursday — if he is cleared by Major League Baseball to return to action, that would still leave the Red Sox without a starter for Saturday.

This is where Seabold comes into play. The 25-year-old right-hander made his last start for Worcester on September 4, allowing just one hit and three walks while striking out four over six scoreless innings of work against the Rochester Red Wings.

After the start of his 2021 season was pushed back by approximately 2 1/2 months due to right elbow inflammation, Seabold has been impressive in his time with the WooSox, posting a 3.67 ERA and 4.17 FIP to go along with 44 strikeouts to 13 walks over eight starts (41 2/3 innings pitched) dating back to July 23.

Originally acquired from the Phillies alongside Pivetta in exchange for relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree last August, Seabold is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 12 prospect in the Red Sox farm system, ranking sixth among pitchers in the organization.

He was added to Boston’s 40-man roster last November in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.

Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, the 6-foot-3, 195 pound hurler primarily operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 91-93 mph fastball that tops out at 95 mph, a deceptive 80-82 mph changeup, and an 83-85 mph slider.

Seabold, who does not turn 26 until January, would become the 10th different starting pitcher the Red Sox have used this season if he does indeed make his big-league debut this weekend.

The California native would also become the ninth Sox player to make their major-league debut this year, joining the likes of Connor Wong, Jack Lopez, Jarren Duran, and fellow pitchers such as Garrett Whitlock, Hirokazu Sawamura, Raynel Espinal, Kutter Crawford, and Eduard Bazardo.

(Picture of Connor Seabold: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox move struggling Garrett Richards to bullpen with Chris Sale’s return on the horizon

The Red Sox have removed right-hander Garrett Richards from their starting rotation and have moved him to the bullpen, manager Alex Cora announced Wednesday.

Richards, who would have in been line to start on Saturday, will be available out of the bullpen in Tuesday night’s contest against the Rays at Fenway Park.

Saturday’s game against the Orioles, of course, will be started by none other than ace left-hander Chris Sale, who will be making his 2021 debut for the Sox.

In his latest start against the Blue Jays in Toronto this past Sunday, the veteran right-hander surrendered four runs — three of which were earned — on six hits and one walk to go along with two strikeouts over five innings of work, bringing his ERA on the season up to 5.22 over 22 starts (110 1/3 innings pitched).

Richards, 33, originally signed a one-year, $10 million deal with Boston in February after spending the previous two seasons with the Padres. He got lit up for six runs over just two innings in his Red Sox debut in early April, but settled in nicely for a spell after that.

From April 10 through June 11 — a stretch of more than two months, the Oklahoma native put up a respectable 3.42 ERA with 59 strikeouts and 32 walks across 12 starts spanning 68 1/3 innings of work.

Things took a turn for the worst for Richards in mid-June, however, and it came right around the same time Major League Baseball began enforcing stricter policies in regards to pitchers using foreign substances (“sticky stuff”) to enhance their grip on the baseball.

Including an outing against the Braves on June 16 in which he allowed six runs (four earned) in just four innings, Richards has posted an unsightly 7.55 ERA and 1.056 OPS against over his last seven starts and 31 innings pitched, with that start against the Blue Jays over the weekend being the latest instance of his prolonged summer struggles.

Because of these struggles, the Red Sox obviously felt it was time to make a change and opted to move a member of their Opening Day starting rotation to the bullpen for a second time in less than a week as Richards joins the likes of left-hander Martin Perez, whose spot has essentially been handed over to Tanner Houck.

Like Perez, though, Richards does have major-league experience working as a reliever, and Cora believes both hurlers can benefit from the move to the ‘pen while also serving key roles for Boston’s pitching staff moving forward.

Prior to joining the Red Sox over the winter, Richards — who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds — made 59 total relief appearances over the course of 10 big-league seasons with the Angels and Padres.

Most recently, the former Oklahoma Sooner was used out of the bullpen by San Diego for the home stretch of the truncated 2020 campaign, as it was his first “full” season back since undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2018 while he was still with the Angels.

In four appearances out of the Padres’ ‘pen last September, Richards pitched to the tune of a 1.80 ERA while holding opposing batters to a .167/.211/.389 slash line against over five total innings of work.

While it’s no sure thing Richards will find success as he transitions to a relief role with the Red Sox on account of the difficulties he has already endured this season, one would have to assume that his fastball and curveball, both of which possess elite spin rates, will play better out of the bullpen than they did the starting rotation. We will have to wait and see on that.

(Picture of Garrett Richards: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Red Sox remove Martín Pérez from starting rotation; Tanner Houck expected to take left-hander’s spot

The Red Sox have removed left-hander Martin Perez from their starting rotation and moved him to the bullpen, manager Alex Cora announced Friday.

Perez recorded just four outs while surrendering three runs in his latest start against the Tigers in Detroit on Thursday, hence the move to demote him to the bullpen.

Including Thursday’s outing, the 30-year-old has posted an ERA of 4.77 and FIP of 4.90 with 85 strikeouts and 33 walks over 22 starts spanning exactly 100 innings of work this season.

After tossing 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Astros at Minute Maid Park on June 3, Perez has struggled mightily since then, pitching to the tune of a 7.13 ERA and 1.073 OPS against in his last 11 starts and 41 2/3 innings pitched.

As The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier pointed out on Thursday, Perez has made nine starts of four innings or fewer so far this year, which is the most in the American League and tied for the most in all of Major League Baseball.

While Perez may have made his final start for the Red Sox this season, Cora still believes the veteran southpaw can provide value out of the bullpen, especially with fellow lefty Darwinzon Hernandez being sidelined with a right oblique strain at the moment.

“Obviously with Darwinzon (Hernandez) being down, having that third lefty (in the bullpen) is something I’ve been telling Chaim (Bloom) will be good, especially against a few teams in this division now,” Cora told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) prior to Friday’s game against the Blue Jays. “Obviously New York is not as right-handed as they were early. Tampa, the Yankees and obviously we’re going to play some teams that have a lot of switch-hitters. So I do believe somehow, someway, he’s going to help us out of the bullpen.”

With Perez, who owns a lifetime 4.60 ERA in 16 career relief appearances (31 1/3 innings pitched) heading to the Boston bullpen, Tanner Houck will likely be taking the lefty’s spot in the Sox’ starting rotation.

Houck, who threw a simulated game in Detroit on Monday, will start the night cap of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Over six appearances (four starts) for the Red Sox this season, the 25-year-old right-hander has produced a 2.45 ERA and 1.71 FIP to go along with 30 strikeouts and just five walks in 22 1/3 innings of work.

In addition to Houck essentially re-joining Boston’s starting rotation this weekend, Chris Sale’s return is on the horizon as the ace left-hander prepares to make what should be his final rehab start with Triple-A Worcester on Saturday.

That being said, one has to wonder if Garrett Richards’ spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy as well if Cora and Co. want to roll with five starters (Sale, Houck, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Eduardo Rodriguez) relatively soon.

(Picture of Martin Perez: Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Red Sox shut down right-hander Tanner Houck due to sore flexor muscle

The Red Sox have shut down right-hander Tanner Houck due to a sore flexor muscle, manager Alex Cora announced Sunday morning.

Per Cora, Houck first felt discomfort during his last start for Triple-A Worcester, which was also the WooSox’ first game of the season in Trenton on May 4.

Houck lasted just three innings in his first start for Worcester this past Tuesday, allowing three runs on eight hits, no walks, and four strikeouts on 69 pitches (45 strikes).

The 24-year-old came in the following day experiencing soreness in his flexor muscle, which resulted in him being shut down.

“We’re not overly concerned,” Cora said. “This happened in his last start. The next day, he came in sore. He’s actually feeling better right now. But of course, we’re going to shut him down.”

Houck, who turns 25 next month, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 3 pitching prospect in Boston’s farm system.

The former first-round draft pick made his major-league debut for the Sox last September and has posted a 1.98 ERA over six outings (five starts) since then.

This year alone, Houck has allowed seven runs (five earned) on 14 hits, one walk, and 12 strikeouts in three appearances (two starts) spanning 10 1/3 total innings of work.

While the Red Sox do not seem too concerned about Houck’s status moving forward, the fact that he has been shut down now means that the club is without their top two rotation depth options at the minor-league level for the time being.

That being the case because in addition to Houck being shut down, fellow right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold was placed on the injured list last Monday with right elbow inflammation.

The Sox did not seem too worried that Seabold would miss a significant amount of time, either, but his absence becomes more significant since Houck has been sidelined as well.

On top of those two, Bryan Mata, the organization’s top pitching prospect, underwent Tommy John surgery last month. So it goes without saying that Boston’s starting rotation depth has taken somewhat of a hit these past few weeks.

Still, as previously mentioned, the Red Sox seem optimistic that in Houck’s case, the righty will not be shut down for long.

“There’s no timetable, but this is something that we feel is going to be short-term,” said Cora. “It’s not something that we are overly concerned, but that’s where we’re at right now.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Tanner Houck to start for Red Sox in Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader against White Sox

Rookie right-hander Tanner Houck will return to the Red Sox’ starting rotation for Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader against the White Sox, manager Alex Cora told reporters following his team’s 7-4 victory over the White Sox on Saturday. Left-hander Martin Perez will start Game 2.

Houck, who is currently at the alternate training site, will more than likely serve as the 27th man on the Sox’ roster for Sunday’s twin bill, meaning he can simply be returned to Worcester after Game 2 with no corresponding roster move needed to be made.

The 24-year-old initially made Boston’s Opening Day roster earlier this month after left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez required a brief stint on the injured list due to elbow inflammation.

Pitching in Rodriguez’s place against the Orioles on April 3, Houck impressed by yielding just three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk to go along with eight strikeouts over five solid innings of work.

He also allowed one unearned run on one hit and two strikeouts while pitching out of the bullpen in the 11th inning of a game against the Rays three days later.

Since making his big-league debut last September, the former first-round draft pick has posted a 1.17 ERA, a 2.48 FIP, and a 31:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio over five outings — four of which were starts — and 23 total innings pitched.

Despite the success he has enjoyed in the majors to this point, Houck has yet to earn a spot in the Sox’ starting rotation on a regular basis. One thing the team wanted to see him continue to work on in Worcester was the development of his third pitch: a splitter.

“I think Tanner Houck is a capable major league starting pitcher right now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Bloom told The Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato after Houck was first optioned to the alternate site on April 6. “We know his ceiling could be even higher if he gets really comfortable with a third pitch. We know he can get lefties out, executing the fastball and slider the way he has in his big league starts, but if he can get more comfortable with that splitter, he’ll be even better. While he’s in Worcester, it’ll be easier to work on that than it would be while he’s pitching in a close game at the big league level.”

Houck will get the opportunity to show what he has been working on at Polar Park when he makes his return to Fenway Park on Sunday.

And even if he is optioned back down to the alternate site afterwards, the expectation is that the 6-foot-5, 218 pound hurler will be back once again sooner rather than later in the event that the Red Sox need a starter for whatever reason.

“He understands,” Cora said of Houck back on April 7. “Whenever we need him, he’ll be here and he’ll perform.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox set starting rotation for Patriots’ Day weekend series against White Sox

Even after Friday’s game was postponed due to “winter-like conditions” in Boston, the Red Sox still (kind of) set their starting rotation for their Patriots’ Day weekend series against the White Sox at Fenway Park.

Coming off a week in which they used four starters in the span of three days in Minnesota, the Red Sox pitching staff — and Alex Cora — will once again be put to the test beginning on Saturday for the first of four against the South Siders.

Game 1 (Saturday)

In Game 1 of the series on Saturday, it will be right-hander Nick Pivetta making his third start of the season for Boston. He will be opposed by fellow righty Dylan Cease for Chicago.

The Red Sox have yet to lose a game Pivetta has started since the 28-year-old was called up from the alternate training site last September.

This season alone, Pivetta boasts a 2-0 record and 3.27 through his first two turns through Boston’s rotation, though he has also walked seven and struck out 11 over 11 total innings of work thus far.

Pivetta will be making his first career start against the White Sox come Saturday afternoon. The former Phillies hurler has made two career relief appearances against Chicago and has allowed one unearned run over three total innings pitched in those outings.

Cease, meanwhile, was reinstated from the COVID-19 related injured list on Friday after just a two-day absence.

The 25-year-old out of Georgia has only gone 4 2/3 innings deep in each of his first two starts of the season, yielding a total of four runs on nine hits, six walks, and nine strikeouts in the process of doing so. He will be making his first career start against the Red Sox on Saturday.

Games 2 & 3 (Sunday)

Things start to get a little complicated for Sunday’s split doubleheader. Game 1 of the twin bill will start at 1:10 p.m. eastern time as it was scheduled to, while Game 2 — the makeup of Friday’s postponed contest — will start at approximately 5:10 p.m. ET. Both games will be seven innings long.

Left-hander Martin Perez is slated to get the starting nod in Game 2 for the Red Sox, and fellow lefty Dallas Keuchel will be starting one of the two games for the White Sox, though which game will be his has yet to be determined.

Outside of that, the expectation seems to be that Tanner Houck will be recalled from the alternate training site in Worcester to make his second start of the season on Sunday afternoon.

The rookie right-hander thoroughly impressed in his first start of the year back on April 3, striking out eight Orioles over five solid innings in which he gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk. He also was charged with an unearned run while pitching in relief in the 11th inning of an April 6 game against the Rays.

Houck, who turns 25 in June, was optioned to the alternate site last Tuesday, which — as noted by the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier — would mean the soonest he could be called up again would be this Saturday.

Had Friday’s game against the White Sox gone on as planned, that likely would have been the case since the Red Sox would have needed a starter for Saturday. But with Friday’s contest being pushed back to Sunday, and Sunday becoming a doubleheader day as a result, Boston can just recall Houck as the 27th man for the twin bill and send him back down to the alternate site at the conclusion of the second game.

Game 4 (Monday)

Monday is Patriots’ Day, meaning first pitch for the Red Sox’ series finale against the White Sox is scheduled for 11:10 a.m. eastern time.

Nathan Eovaldi will be getting the ball for Boston to close out the four-game set, and he will be matched up against a talented opponent in right-hander Lucas Giolito for Chicago.

Eovaldi, who joined teammate Chris Sale in getting some work in at snowy Fenway Park on Friday, has been solid through his first three starts of the 2021 campaign.

Coming into the weekend, the 31-year-old righty carries with him a 2.08 ERA and .503 OPS against as he is fresh off tossing five innings of two-run ball against the Twins on Wednesday.

For his career, Eovaldi has made just three appearances (two starts) against the White Sox. In those three outings, the Houston-area native has posted a 5.59 ERA over 9 2/3 total innings pitched.

Giolito, meanwhile, is just a few days removed from his best start of the young season to this point.

The 26-year-old, who finished in the top-seven in American League Cy Young voting in each of the last two seasons, put together seven shutout frames against the Indians while scattering all of three hits and two walks to go along with eight strikeouts in a game his side somehow lost.

Giolito, a product of the baseball factory that is Harvard-Westlake High School, has made just one prior start at Fenway Park.

In that one start, which came back on June 24, 2019, the Southern California native surrendered three runs on six hits, four walks, and seven strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings pitched.

(Picture of Nick Pivetta: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Red Sox option Tanner Houck to Worcester: Chaim Bloom says rookie right-hander ‘is a capable major-league starting pitcher right now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product’

The Red Sox optioning rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to the alternate training site in Worcester on Wednesday did not come as much of a surprise.

With Eduardo Rodriguez set to make his season debut against the Orioles on Thursday, the Sox needed to open up a roster spot in order to activate the left-hander from the injured list.

Considering the fact that Houck has minor-league options and Boston’s starting rotation already consists of Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martin Perez, optioning the young righty seemed like the most logical step to take so that Rodriguez could be slotted back into the rotation.

Since being called up by the Red Sox for the first time last September, Houck has posted a 1.17 ERA and 2.51 FIP over five outings (four starts) and 23 innings pitched. That includes his first start of the 2021 season against the Orioles over the weekend in which he gave up three runs (two earned) over five innings as well as a relief appearance in the 11th inning of Tuesday’s contest against the Rays in which he allowed one unearned run in one inning of work.

To say the 24-year-old out of Collinsville, Ill. has gotten his big-league career off to an impressive start would be an understatement, but the Sox still feel as though there are some things he can improve upon.

“Tanner pitched great, both in his start and his appearance out of the bullpen,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told The Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato on Wednesday. “Simply put, this is about depth. We’re fortunate to have five guys we feel are good and capable major league starters. Tanner, we feel, is a sixth. We want to keep them all starting and keep them all pitching.”

Bloom acknowledged that while Boston’s starting rotation is set for the time being, injuries are inevitable and having Houck available to come up from Worcester could prove to be extremely valuable.

While Houck will be limited to just throwing bullpen sessions and in simulated games at Polar Park for the time being before the minor-league season begins next month, one aspect of his game the Sox would like to see the former first-round pick build on is continuing to develop a third pitch.

That third pitch, a splitter, is one that is still relatively new to the 6-foot-5, 218 pound hurler. Of the 100 pitches the righty has thrown so far this season, only three have been splitters.

“I think Tanner Houck is a capable major league starting pitcher right now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product,” Bloom told Mastrodonato. “We know his ceiling could be even higher if he gets really comfortable with a third pitch. We know he can get lefties out, executing the fastball and slider the way he has in his big league starts, but if he can get more comfortable with that splitter, he’ll be even better. While he’s in Worcester, it’ll be easier to work on that than it would be while he’s pitching in a close game at the big league level.”

To put it simply, Houck is still “a work in progress” in the Red Sox’ eyes.. The hope is that he will be able to make more developmental strides while at the alternate site before being called upon once again.

“Keep working on his craft, on his pitches,” Red Sox manager Alex said in regards to what Houck can do to improve in Worcester. “Keep throwing strikes. Keep developing his secondary pitches. And just be ready. That’s all he needs to do. Where we’re at right now, we knew that this was going to happen. You look at the guys that have pitched for us, they’ve done an amazing job. And the difference between this team and last year — and even 2019 — we’re a lot deeper.

“He was a professional when we talked to him,” Cora continued. “He understands. Whenever we need him, he’ll be here and he’ll perform.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)