The Red Sox needed a jolt on Wednesday night, coming off an afternoon tilt against the Blue Jays with some flat offense that failed to come through when they had chances to open the game up. In the second half of the doubleheader, they had some similar issues, and their lead always felt smaller than it should have been. Fortunately, they were able to still grab a win thanks to a trio of rookies. Jarren Duran had a huge swing that was ultimately ruled a triple but was effectively an inside-the-park homer. Tanner Houck was great for four innings. Garrett Whitlock was great for the next two. The one bit of bad news was that Rafael Devers had to leave early with a quad issue, but right now it doesn’t appear too serious and they’re hoping he’ll play Friday. All in all, it was a night with a win, and we’ll take that part at least.
The Red Sox have some decisions to make in their rotation, most notably whether or not to add somebody in the next couple of days. They’ve been connected a little bit to Max Scherzer, but beyond that they don’t seem too invested in adding to their rotation. Whether or not they do make that sort of move probably comes down, at least in part, to how they feel about Tanner Houck as part of their rotation. If they’re looking for upgrades over both Garrett Richards and Martín Pérez (or Nick Pivetta) — Chris Sale will be the upgrade over one of them — Houck could be a potential internal option.
The issue with Houck, as has been for years now, is that it’s still not clear what he can do as a starter. This was another encouraging answer to that question, however. The righty has generally been a two-pitch pitcher this season, leaning most heavily on his four-seam fastball and slider. In this outing, however, while we didn’t see the splitter that seems so important to his ultimate role, he did mix in a lot more sinkers, and the results against a very tough Toronto lineup were positive.
The Red Sox rookie came out of the gates absolutely firing in this game, wasting no time at all making his presence known. Houck struck out all three batters he faced to start off this game in the top of the first, getting all of them with sliders. He’d come back with a perfect second as well before issuing a walk but nothing else in the fourth.
Over on the other side, the Red Sox were looking to break out a bit at the plate, something they were not able to do over the course of the afternoon game. They had plenty of chances earlier in the day, but couldn’t come through. They’d have their chances early once again in the nightcap against Steven Matz. Kiké Hernández hit the ball hard right away to start the game, ripping a double out to center field. Next up was Devers, and he ripped a ball back up the middle for a base hit, bringing Hernández around to score and give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.
That play wasn’t al positive for the Red Sox, however, as Devers tried to get to second on the throw home. Instead, it was cut off and he was thrown out at second. Boston did get another base hit in the inning after that, but they couldn’t push any more runs across. For an inning that started with three straight hits, getting one run felt like another potential wasted opportunity.
The Red Sox would again get early baserunners in the second, however, with Alex Verdugo and Kevin Plawecki starting off the inning with back-to-back base hits. That was followed by a ground ball to put a pair in scoring position with just one down, and a struggling Duran came to the plate. He didn’t yet get the big hit to break out of his slump, but he hit the ball well and sent a fly ball deep enough into right field to easily score the run. So once again, the Red Sox did get one but they still were failing to come through with the big inning they needed.
So from here, we fast-forward to the fourth where Houck was facing the Blue Jays lineup for the second time around, which is when he’s been having some trouble. And sure enough, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. started the inning with Toronto’s first hit of the game, a double out to left field. He’d then get over to third base on a passed ball from Plawecki, which turned out to be big because he’d come in to score on a base hit from Bo Bichette. The ball was hit hard and Guerrero doesn’t exactly fly, so I’m not sure if he scores from second.
Either way, it was now a 2-1 game, and the Blue Jays still had a man on first with one down. Bichette did get over to second base with a steal, but he’d be stranded there as Houck avoided any more damage. That also ended the night for the rookie, with the team are still keeping his workload down and not messing around with him seeing the order too many times in a game.
And before the next pitcher could come on, the Red Sox added some insurance in thrilling fashion. Things got started pretty normally, with Plawecki reaching on an infield single. But a couple batters later, Duran came to the plate again, and he again made good contact. This time it wasn’t caught, instead landing in the gap in right-center field and rolling all the way to the garage in center field. Duran can absolutely fly, and when George Springer bobbled it in center field Duran came all the way around to score. It was originally scored an inside-the-park-homer, but was quickly changed to a triple with an error. Whatever the scoring decision, the Red Sox had extended their lead to 4-1.
They did keep pushing from there, too, getting a single, a double, and a hit batter to load the bases up right after the Duran triple, still with just one out on the board. With J.D. Martinez stepping up, it was yet another chance to really put a dent in this game. Instead they kept with the trend of the day. Martinez popped one up before Hunter Renfroe struck out, ending the inning with only the two runs.
Still, it was now a three-run lead, and Alex Cora went to his bullpen with Garrett Whitlock coming on for the fifth. The rookie tossed an easy 1-2-3 inning. He’d come back out in the sixth as well after the Red Sox failed to score, but what was concerning at that moment was Devers exiting the game. Michael Chavis entered to play first with Bobby Dalbec moving across the diamond to third base. Meanwhile, Whitlock got into a little bit of trouble after back-to-back two-out singles, but he escaped the inning without any runs, keeping the lead at three.
After the Red Sox got a one-out triple but no more runs in the bottom of the sixth, it was Matt Barnes coming in looking for a save. He didn’t get off to the start he wanted, hitting Lourdes Gurriel Jr. with a pitch in a two-strike count. That was the only blemish in the inning, though, and he was able to grab a strikeout and a double play in the scoreless inning.
The 4-1 victory pushed the Red Sox record to 63-40. As of this writing, the Rays and Yankees are tied. Boston holds a two-game lead in the division pending the result of that game.
The Red Sox and Blue Jays finish up their four-game set on Thursday back at Fenway. Boston will have Eduardo Rodriguez going while Toronto counters with Hyun Jin Ryu. First pitch is set for 7:10 PM ET.