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Red Sox 4, Braves 0: Tanner Houck did the thing

And he did it well.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox got some unexpected good news on Monday afternoon that certainly takes precedent over the outcome of the game they played against the Braves at the same time. That said, the game was pretty good too, with a strong start as well as two homers.

Tanner Houck comes through when the team may need him

The Red Sox got the good news on the Matt Barnes front this afternoon, but the situation with Eduardo Rodriguez at the top of the rotation is still unclear. He definitely won’t be pitching on Thursday, but whether or not he’ll have to hit the injured list is still up in the air. If he does, the Red Sox would have to look toward another starter, and Tanner Houck could very well be that guy. He sure as hell made his case for it on Monday.

The righty got the start in this one as the pitching staff was still very much in flux at the start of the game. Houck did not waste his chance. Coming off his wildly exciting end to 2020, the rookie shoved against a Braves lineup that featured a whole lot of regulars from one of the best lineups in the sport. Houck ended up pitching into the fifth, tossing 4 13 innings without allowing a run on just two hits (both singles), one walk and six strikeouts. Specifically, it was his slider that stood out to me as he spun a few very impressive breaking balls.

It’s been an up-and-down spring for Houck, who now has two shutout appearances on his game log as well as two in which he allowed three runs in two or fewer innings. Even after his impressive showing late last summer, there are still questions here about his ability to stick long-term in the rotation. This outing didn’t make those questions disappear, of course, but it adds a bit of confidence that he can fill in for a start or two if Rodriguez does indeed have to hit the injured list. That said, Matt Andriese is back along with Barnes and he could be a spot starter option as well. Whether Houck makes his first start in April or May or whenever it may be, today was a reminder that for all of the questions he can still be electric.

Three more homers from key players

On Sunday, the Red Sox got back-to-back homers from Kiké Hernández and Franchy Cordero to help catapult them to a victory. It wasn’t quite the same this time around, but they did get three more homers from key players in the same inning that led the way offensively. The first was actually from Hernández again. He wasn’t leading off the game this time — he did hit leadoff again, though — but in the third inning he launched his third homer of the spring and his second in as many days. He also drew a walk in the 1-2 day while starting at second and is up to a 1.083 OPS on the spring.

J.D. Martinez, meanwhile, also had a good game on Sunday, though he didn’t leave the yard. In fact, coming into Monday’s game he hadn’t hit a homer yet this spring. As you may expect because he’s being included in this section, he changed that against the Braves. He showed off the smooth opposite field power for his first dinger of 2021, keeping up a hot streak to end camp. As we mentioned yesterday. spring training is never really smooth for him, but it’s always nice to see him get his swing in order for the last few games. With his 1-2 game today that also included a walk, he’s reached base twice in each of the last two games and three times in his last five starts.

And finally, Marwin Gonzalez showed off the pop. He was hitting from the left side on this one, and with a runner on second he hit a two-run shot out to right field. It was his third homer of the spring. He continues to move all around the diamond as well, playing third base for this one. Yesterday, we noted his strong defense at second, but today he offered a reminder he can hit a bit as well. It wasn’t just the home run, either, as Gonzalez added a pair of singles for a 3-3 day.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Other Notes

  • The Red Sox got a couple of appearances from relievers that should be in the Opening Day bullpen coming in to finish this seven-inning affair. First was Austin Brice, who is out of options but could be on one of the shorter leashes in the relief corps to start the year. He didn’t allow a run in this one but did allow a couple of singles in his inning of work. He did, however, also strike out a pair to work around the trouble.
  • After Brice was Darwinzon Hernandez to finish off the game. The lefty has some high hopes this season as he comes equipped with arguably the best pure stuff in the bullpen (which is saying something given the track records of Barnes and Adam Ottavino). He didn’t get any strikeouts in this one and he did walk one, but that was all he allowed in the scoreless inning of work.
  • Also getting hits in this game who have not been mentioned were: Jarren Duran, who started in center field for this game and smacked a double in a 1-2 day that also included a strikeout; Chad De La Guerra, who came in as a late-game sub and got a single in his lone plate appearance; and Xander Bogaerts, who started at shortstop today and went 1-3 with a single and came in to score on Gonzalez’s homer.
  • Also pitching in this game who has not been mentioned was Kaleb Ort, the minor-league Rule 5 selection who has pitched noticeably a lot this spring. He came in after Houck and recorded the final two outs of the fifth while walking two and striking out one.