Tanner Houck’s versatility is proving to be a valuable asset for the Boston Red Sox, who aim for a sweep of their three-game series against the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon.
Houck has been moved from the rotation to the bullpen as the Red Sox (85-65) make a final push for the top American League wild-card spot.
The 25-year-old rookie earned his first victory of the season on Saturday, when he tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings in Boston’s 9-3 win.
The Red Sox have won 11 of their last 12 meetings against Baltimore and hold the top AL wild-card spot with 12 games remaining.
Manager Alex Cora plans to lean on starters Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi down the stretch, but he knows multi-inning relievers such as Houck will play a key role over the next two weeks.
“The more we have, the better matchups we’re going to get throughout the rest of the season, and we’ll adjust, we’ll play the game accordingly,” Cora said. “But having Houck is going to help us tremendously in the bullpen.”
The Orioles (47-101) became the first team to lose 100 games this season on Friday and were held scoreless for the final 5 1/3 innings on Saturday.
They face another tough matchup in the series finale against Eovaldi (10-8, 3.52 ERA), who has posted a 1.90 ERA with 56 strikeouts against seven walks over his last seven starts.
The 31-year-old right-hander received a no-decision last Tuesday after giving up one run with nine strikeouts over five innings against Seattle.
Eovaldi, who leads Boston starters in innings (168 2/3) and starts (29), owns a 6-2 record and 3.95 ERA in 13 career starts versus Baltimore.
Baltimore counters with rookie left-hander Alexander Wells (1-3, 7.76), who has made two starts since recording a 7.71 ERA in six games earlier this season.
The 24-year-old Australian allowed five runs over four frames in last Tuesday’s 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees.
Baltimore has lost eight of its last 11 games despite the play of outfielder Austin Hays, who clearly enjoys hitting in the month of September.
The 26-year-old hit .309 with four home runs in September 2019 and batted .377 with three homers last September.
Hays has five homers in his last eight contests and has hit safely in 14 of the Orioles’ first 16 games this month.
“He’s had a great month, and I’m really happy with the progress he’s making,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s always had the ability, and now he’s playing every day and facing AL East pitching. He’s made some adjustments throughout the year, taking really good at-bats.”
Boston has its own hot hitter in first baseman Bobby Dalbec, who has homered five times in his last nine games.
The Red Sox have also received a boost from shortstop Xander Bogaerts. The three-time All-Star went 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs in Saturday’s win and is batting .367 (11-for-30) since returning from the COVID-19 related injured list last Friday.
The Red Sox will face Baltimore again for a three-game series on Sept. 28-30. Hyde said infielders Trey Mancini, Ramon Urias and catcher Pedro Severino will receive regular rest during the rest of the season due to nagging injuries.
–Field Level Media