The ‘hard to do’ stat Red Sox starters accomplished in first five games

OAKLAND, Calif. — Tanner Houck pounded the strike zone Monday, throwing 76% strikes, walking nobody and punching out 10 batters in 6 scoreless innings. The Red Sox won 9-0 over the Athletics at Oakland Coliseum.

“You can’t get behind guys,” Houck said. “So to go out there and throw a lot of strikes is the name of the game. I’m harder on myself than anybody else will be. I need to throw a few more first-pitch strikes.”

Strike throwing was a theme for Red Sox starters their first turn through the rotation. Boston’s five starters walked just one batter in 28 innings. That’s a heck of a stat.

“It’s hard to do,” manager Alex Cora said. “We’re in a better spot. I think it started with health and obviously it’s a different philosophy. We’re moving the ball around. We’re moving it in the strike zone. I think last year, one of the goals was to throw strikes and we did throw strikes. But we got hit hard in the strike zone. This year, it’s the other way around.”

Yep. The Red Sox not only are throwing strikes (everyone but Brayan Bello threw at least 63% strikes) but they are doing it without giving up damage. Boston starters allowed just four earned runs and an average of just 5.5 hits per nine innings the first time through the rotation. They also are averaging 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

“We’ve got to continue to try to be ahead (in counts) and finish at-bats as soon as possible,” Cora said.

The new pitching infrastructure chief baseball officer Craig Breslow has put into place seems to be working. The new setup includes the additions of Andrew Bailey as pitching coach, Justin Willard as director of pitching and Kyle Boddy, the founder of Driveline Baseball, as a special advisor.

“They (the pitchers) have bought into the concept, trying to make their arsenal better, which is important,” Cora said. “We know we’re going to face a lot of (left-handed hitters) and one of the problems we had last year was getting lefties out. Righties need to do that and so far they have done that.”

Boston has five right-handed starters. Twelve of the 13 pitchers on its active roster are righties.

Houck said the staff continues “to preach” to him the need to throw strikes.

“I know I need to work on that,” said Houck, who threw 63% strikes last season. “I know I need to get better with it. I’ve spent a long time working on it. I’ve spent countless hours watching video, working on the mound and just having quality conversations with all the guys here and all the guys in the offseason that I work out with. It’s been one of those things where I know what I have to do. I know what I have to do to be a starter for a long time. I know what I’ve got to do to pitch deeper into games and that’s to throw a lot of strikes. Then when you get to the 0-2 counts, then you can expand. But until that point, you’ve got to go out there and pound the zone.”

Houck’s mechanics are in a good spot right now.

“Tonight I just felt like I was playing catch with Reese (McGuire) back there,” Houck added. “Didn’t feel like I was overthrowing and just spraying and praying. I felt like I was very under control, very deliberate with everything. And the results are the results.”

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