TODAY: Houck will indeed undergo back surgery next week, Cora confirmed to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford and other reporters. The current expectation is that the right-hander will be ready for the start of Spring Training.
SEPTEMBER 2, 3:37pm: After meeting with another specialist, Houck will likely undergo back surgery, Cora announced to reporters (Twitter link via MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo).
11:35am: What the Red Sox hoped would be a fairly short-term injury for righty Tanner Houck could actually prove to be a season-ender. Houck, who was placed on the 15-day injured list in early August due to lower back inflammation, has yet to resume baseball activity, and manager Alex Cora tells reporters there’s a “good chance” he could miss the remainder of the year at this point (link via MassLive.com’s Chris Smith). Houck met with a back specialist yesterday, and there will be more information on his outlook in the near future.
Houck was diagnosed with a disc issue in his back not long after being placed on the injured list, and while he was slated to throw a bullpen session earlier in the week, that didn’t happen due to continued discomfort. Cora, Smith notes, said he was not sure whether Houck would require surgery to address the issue.
Prior to his injury, Houck had stepped up as a key late-inning option for the Sox, going 8-for-9 in save opportunities and adding a hold along the way. Since a May 15 shift to the bullpen, Houck has pitched to a pristine 1.49 ERA with a 22.6% strikeout rate, a 7.5% walk rate and a huge 58.2% ground-ball rate in 36 1/3 innings. Houck, John Schreiber, Garrett Whitlock and Matt Strahm have been Boston’s most reliable bullpen arms in 2022, though Whitlock has also spent time in the rotation and Strahm and Houck have now both missed substantial time due to injury.
The 26-year-old Houck has long rated as one of the better prospects in the Red Sox organization, and through parts of three big league seasons, he’s demonstrated the reasoning behind that evaluation. The 2017 first-rounder has tallied 146 big league innings, dating back to 2020, and carries a 3.02 ERA with a strong 27.6% strikeout rate, a roughly average 8.7% walk rate and an above-average 49.3% grounder rate. He’s worked both as a reliever and as a starter, finding success in both roles (3.22 ERA as a starter, 2.66 as a reliever).
While this wouldn’t be the manner in which the Sox hoped to see his first full big league season end, Houck has largely solidified himself as a key piece of the team’s long-term plans — whichever role he ultimately occupies. Houck will finish this season with one year and 100 days of Major League service time, giving him five additional seasons of club control (and another two years before he even reaches arbitration).
The Sox will see Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill all reach free agency at season’s end — Wacha recently told the Globe’s Peter Abraham that he’d “definitely like to” re-sign in Boston — which could create a potential rotation vacancy for Houck. At the same time, there’s plenty of fluidity in the relief corps, particularly with Strahm also set to reach the market as a free agent. Houck could help stabilize the bullpen as well. That flexibility is a boon for the front office as they look to revamp the staff this winter, broadening the options they can explore both via free agency and trade.