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Despite the team getting swept in their opening series, Tanner Houck stood out as one of the few Red Sox bright spots. However, it could be a while until fans get to see him again.

Following Thursday night’s extra innings win over the Rays, the Red Sox optioned Houck back to Pawtucket. Houck was originally set to start the season in Triple-AAA, but ending up making the major league roster after Eduardo Rodriguez’ spring training arm injury. With Rodriguez now set to return, the Red Sox want to ‘stick to their plan’ regarding Houck, manager Alex Cora told the media on Tuesday.

In his lone start, Houck appeared to be in complete control. Pitching against the Orioles in the second game of the season, he struck out eight hitters in five innings, while allowing just two earned runs. He also made a relief appearance in extra innings on Thursday, striking out two of the four batters he faced.

This is yet another step in what has been a bizarre developmental path for Houck. After a very successful college career at Missouri, the Red Sox made him a first round pick in 2017. Almost immediately, the team began trying to alter his mechanics, which caused him to struggle early on in the minors. During the 2019 season, then-Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made the call to transition Houck into a reliever, hoping to find a quick fix for his lackluster bullpen.

When Chaim Bloom took over in 2020, he made the call to return Houck to a starting role, which seemed to pay dividends. Called up late in the 2020 season, the 24-year-old won all three of his starts, posting a 0.53 ERA in 17 innings against a trio of playoff teams. Throw in his lone start in 2021, and it appears he has what it takes to be effective at the big league level. However, it appears the team isn’t completely sold just yet.

Houck heads back to the Woo Sox as questions remain regarding the Red Sox starting rotation. Garrett Richards struggled mightily on Sunday, and there are always injury concerns regarding Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi. While the team is sending Houck down for developmental reasons – many have cited improving his slider as a reliable third pitch – it’s not unrealistic to think we could see him back in Boston soon.

Whether or not Houck needs more time to work on his game is a fair discussion. That being said, it’d be hard to argue he’s not one of the five best starting pitchers on the roster (especially with Chris Sale continuing to work his way back from Tommy John).

It’s possible the team feels that Triple-AAA is the best place for him to make the progress he needs, but in doing so they’re potentially taking wins off the board for the major league club. Ideally, he’ll get to a place soon where he can improve his game while pitching at the major league level.

For more on Houck’s developmental path and his future with the Red Sox, check out the latest episode of Hardcore Baseball with Matt McCarthy below.

Click here for 98.5 The Sports Hub’s complete coverage of the Red Sox.

Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.