After back surgery, Red Sox’ Tanner Houck looks forward to being ‘100 percent’ for 2023


A week after having season-ending back surgery, Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck feels “completely” back to normal.

“I already told A.C. (Red Sox manager Alex Cora) I’d pitch tonight if they let me,” Houck joked. “But I don’t think that’ll happen.”

Indeed, Houck’s 2022 season is over after a successful lumbar discectomy performed last week to repair a disc issue in his back. After an up and down year in which he emerged as a valuable weapon in relief, Houck now has his sights set on the offseason. He said he’ll stay in Boston until some time in November to finish his rehab process before heading home to Florida to spend time with his family. Then he’ll start preparing for spring training in 2023, which he expects to be ready for.

“I’ve been told normal offseason, normal just kind of build-up, and that’s what I wanted at the end of the day,” Houck said. “Be able to come back for next year 100 percent and just put this whole thing behind me. Just one little bump in the road, continue to move forward.”

Houck said he isn’t concerned about any long-term issues with his back.

“From what I know, I think it’s just a one and done thing,” Houck said. “Just get it done, get it done right, rehab properly and be ready for next year. I haven’t been told it could be a lingering thing at all and I don’t plan on it being (one).”

As Houck moves forward into 2023, a major question remains what role he’ll be used in.

Houck began his big-league career as a starter, and began this season as a starter before he was moved to the bullpen, where he became one of Cora’s few trustworthy options. Houck’s role will be dependent on how the starting rotation and bullpen shake out over the offseason, and further discussions will be had throughout the winter about how the versatile right-hander could be best used.

Houck is focused on getting fully healthy right now, but said he’ll build up as a starter in his offseason program so that he’s ready in case that’s the route taken.

“I definitely have to continue to have talks with them,” Houck said. “Step one is getting back to being able to bend and twist and get out of my bed normal. But, yeah, we’ll have those talks as things kind of ramp up and we get into more of the offseason phase. I plan on training as a starter. Definitely have a little bit of a different build-up. In terms of starter, you have to be able to come in and typically throw two to three innings on day one of camp. But as a reliever, you have a little more time. You don’t have to be built up as game ready as quickly.”

Eovaldi throws live BP

Nathan Eovaldi threw three innings of live batting practice prior to Tuesday’s game at Fenway as he continues his rehab from shoulder and neck soreness. He hasn’t made a start since Aug. 12.

“That’s a good sign,” Cora said. “Now we’ll just have to wait and see how he reacts to it and we’ll decide what we’re going to do. The goal was two. He felt good, kept going, and stuff was good. I didn’t look at the numbers. I was just seeing how he was moving and reacted to certain swings and pitches and all that. It’s a good step but we’ll know more tomorrow.”

Cora still expects Eovaldi to make a minor league rehab start with the hope that he pitches again for the Red Sox this season.

“Everything feels good. I feel ready to go,” Eovaldi said. “It’s just this time we’re trying to make sure we don’t skip any steps and we dot our I’s and cross our T’s.”

‘Best’ version of Judge

As he returned to Fenway Park, Yankees star Aaron Judge entered Tuesday with 55 homers this season as he rapidly approaches Roger Maris’ American League record of 61. Cora sees a clear difference in Judge’s approach.

“He’s early. He’s on time,” Cora said. “And that’s something as an industry we don’t talk about a lot. Everything is mechanics, everything is hitting the ball in the air, but at the end of the day, like the great Manny Ramirez used to say, ‘You’ve got to see the ball.’ … He’s early. This is the best I’ve seen him. You still can go to certain areas, but he’s early enough that he’s making decisions way early. Like, I’m not swinging at that pitch. …

“Edgar Martinez used to do that. Edgar was, from the hand, there’s the ball, I’m not swinging at this one. It feels that way. You see videos. The last time he was here he was swinging the bat well but not as hot, and it was still the same thing. You see him now, and you barely see the difference when he’s going well or when he’s hot because he hasn’t struggled. But I think that’s the difference.” …

Trevor Story was out of Tuesday’s lineup and is day to day after hurting his left heel when he slipped on first base on Sunday against the Orioles. Cora doesn’t expect him to be out long. … Brayan Bello will start Wednesday against the Yankees. After Thursday’s off day, the Red Sox will start Michael Wacha on Friday, Rich Hill on Saturday and Nick Pivetta on Sunday against the Royals. Bello will start next Tuesday at Cincinnati. … The Red Sox held a moment of silence before Tuesday’s game against the Yankees to honor Anthony Varvaro, the former Sox pitcher who was tragically killed in a car accident over the weekend.

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