With this first game of the series between the Red Sox and Marlins, all eyes were on Tanner Houck. The 2017 first round pick was making his major-league debut in this one, and to put it mildly: He did not disappoint. We’ll have more in-depth analysis on this debut in the morning, but to put it quickly he was very impressive. It wasn’t perfect and there are things to nitpick, but he tossed five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, showing poise and an elite slider. It was the best Red Sox debut by a starting pitcher since Eduardo Rodriguez. The offense didn’t exactly overwhelm him with support, and in fact to make things even more impressive the game was scoreless the entire time Houck was in the game. The Red Sox got a couple of late runs, though, and the bullpen held strong to give Boston their second shutout win of the year.
The story heading into this one was obviously Tanner Houck, and he did not disappoint. Throughout his time in the minors, the biggest issue that the Red Sox were trying to solve with their 2017 first round pick was how to get out lefties. So, it made sense that he got to start his career against a veteran lefty in Corey Dickerson. The Marlins leadoff man won the battle, too, smacking a base hit into left-center field. Bizarrely, however, he decided to try and stretch it to a double and was fairly easily thrown out by Yairo Muñoz. It was a strange decision under any circumstances, but with a guy making his major-league debut, you’d think you’d want to make him pitch with guys on base right off the bat. Instead, Dickerson gave him an early first out, and Houck only ended up needing nine pitches in a three-batter first. He finished off the frame getting Jesús Aguilar with a ridiculously well-placed fastball down and away for his first big-league strikeout.
Houck did indeed continue to look good from there. The righty did give up a two-out single and then issued a walk after that in the second, but he struck out the other three batters he faced to give him four K’s through two. He then came back with a 1-2-3 third to give him three scoreless.
The fourth was the most the rookie had to work in the game and was the first time it really seemed like he had to labor through a frame. He got Aguilar to fly out to start the inning, but then he issued his second walk of the game to put his first man on with less than two outs. He came back from that with a big strikeout — and one that was extra impressive after it started with a truly terrible ball call that he didn’t let unravel him — before issuing another walk. With two men on and Miguel Rojas, Miami’s best hitter this year, at the plate, Hocuk bore down with his fastball velocity ticking down a bit and still managed a huge strikeout to end the inning.
The young righty was up to 77 pitches at this point heading into the fifth, and with the way the fourth went it looked like this may be his last inning of the night. He did toss a quick fifth and had only 86 pitches, but that would be the end of his night. It was a great debut, though, with five scoreless innings under his belt on two hits (both singles), three walks and seven strikeouts.
Unfortunately, as all this was going on, the Red Sox offense wasn’t giving their rookie starter any run support whatsoever. They were going up against another young pitcher (albeit with a full year of experience, plus a bit on top of that) in Sandy Alcantara. And they had no answers. They managed just a two-out single in the first, and the same in the third. They did get a couple runners on in the fourth on a one-out single that was followed by a walk, but they couldn’t come through with the run.
Finally, in the sixth, they were able to give some help to Houck. The rally started with a one-out single from Xander Bogaerts, his second hit of the day. A couple batters later, Christian Vázquez drew a walk to extend the inning and put a pair on for Jackie Bradley Jr. The latter continued his hot streak at the plate, slapping a liner down into the left field corner that brought Bogaerts around to score, giving the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. They couldn’t build off of that, but it was indeed a lead.
Now it was up to the bullpen to try and keep this Marlins lineup off the board, and Dylan Covey got the first call. He got it done with a quick 1-2-3 sixth. He’d come back with another perfect inning in the seventh, too, this one featuring a pair of strikeouts and a very nice play on both ends between Rafael Devers and Bobby Dalbec.
The Red Sox were now looking for some more insurance heading into the eighth, and Devers got them off to the right start thanks to a leadoff double. The Marlins were then inexplicably concerned with Devers taking off with one out and attempted a pick off. That attempt ended up in center field, putting the runner at third. After intentionally walking J.D. Martinez (another weird decision, they served up a base hit to Vázquez to make it a 2-0 game.
With the extra insurance run now in tow, Ryan Brasier came on to protect the eighth. He gave up some very loud contact to start things off, but was bailed out by Muñoz making a very nice grab going back and crashing against the wall. Miami did get a two-out single, but Brasier got out of the inning thanks to another strong play from Devers, keeping the lead at two.
That left it up to Matt Barnes to close things out in the ninth. The righty got a couple of quick outs, but it’s never easy with him so of course he had to give up a two-out double, which brought the tying run to the plate. He got Garrett Cooper swinging a breaking ball to end the game, though, securing Houck a win in his big-league debut.
The Red Sox and Marlins continue their series on Wednesday. Mike Kickham is getting the start for Boston while Trevor Rogers goes for Miami. First pitch is set for 6:40 PM ET.