The Red Sox have been lucky in the sense that they have only used six starting pitchers all season. With the main starting five being mostly healthy and successful, Tanner Houck was not needed for most of the season. Now with starters Martin Perez and Garret Richards struggling and multiple injuries in the bullpen, Houck’s call-up was a necessity and it should be permanent. While Boston has deployed Houck in a dual-starter/relief role, questions remain what his role will be going forward and on a larger scale, how will the Red Sox rotation look going forward.
Houck the starter or reliever?
Houck’s inclusion as a starter turns the rotation into a six-man staff leaving eight guys in the bullpen. Most would think eight guys would be enough but, the bullpen has not been good in July. Boston’s relievers have a combined 4.70 ERA during the month. An overworked group does not need the extra pressure as is.
On the other hand, having Houck in the rotation would provide the opportunity for deeper starts. It is a rare sight to see the starters to go past the fifth inning. Keeping Houck in the rotation gives each starter an extra day of rest. It would also give the rotation a guy with an ERA of 3.38, which is better than all five starters.
The decision may simply come down to how Houck does today against the Yankees. A successful start and a win may solidify his spot in the rotation. Maybe Cora send Richards to bullpen to figure out his struggles. Regardless, Houck has pitched too well to be sent back down to the minors at this point. With the Red Sox in a tight division race and the bullpen struggling, the team needs a capable arm that isn’t at huge risk of blowing leads.
The Return of Sale
Even if the Red Sox want to go with a six-man rotation, someone will get bumped once Chris Sale returns. Sale has been spectacular in his rehab starts and looks like he will be ready to go once he rejoins the team in a few weeks. It’s likely Houck would be sent to bullpen and be used as a long-reliever who could go 3-4 innings if a starter gets into early trouble.
If Boston wants to go back down to a five-man rotation, there are plenty of choices on who gets moved. Realistically if another guy gets moved to the bullpen it will probably be Richards or Nick Pavetta. There are already two lefty relievers so there is no need to send Eduardo Rodriguez or Perez. Nathan Eovaldi has experience in relief, but he has been the team’s best starter.
There is also the possibility that Boston trades or puts one of the starters on waivers to make room for Sale. However, with the trade deadline looming, the team won’t want to lose any depth in case somebody gets injured.
In all likelihood, Houck will make a few starts then return to bullpen once Sale comes back. Depending on how the bullpen performs, Cora may go with a five-man rotation and send another starter to the bullpen. The good news is Boston will have some flexibility when it comes to these decisions and the staff should be better regardless of the exact makeup of the rotation.