Even before Tanner Houck got called up last September and went 3-0 with an ERA of 0.53 in three starts, he was called a right-handed version of Boston Red Sox teammate Chris Sale.
Things haven't gone quite as expected this season for Houck, a former first-round pick. He is scheduled to take the mound Wednesday afternoon in Seattle with the Red Sox tied with the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees for the American League's two wild-card playoff berths.
Houck (0-4, 3.54 ERA), who has shuttled between Boston and Triple-A Worcester a half-dozen times this season, is set to face Mariners ace Marco Gonzales (8-5, 4.03), who has won his past seven decisions.
Gonzales is 1-2 with a 5.87 ERA in three career starts against the Red Sox. Houck will oppose the Mariners for the first time.
Houck said, "Whenever I was going through the draft process and people asked, 'Who do you compare yourself to the most?' I always said, 'right-handed Chris Sale.' I knew that I landed across my body just like he does. Both low three-quarter arm slots. So a lot of similarities there."
One person who has embraced the Houck-Sale comparison is Sale, a seven-time All-Star.
Sale has even said that Houck, 25, has a better slider than he does.
"I don't know what the spin and axis and all the other numbers are, but I know it's a true power pitch," Sale said. "He throws it 6-8 mph harder than mine. Mine is more of a curveball from a lower arm slot. His is a true, hard power pitch."
Sale also praised Houck's "unbelievable ability to sink the ball."
"I can't sink the ball to save my life," Sale said. "I've got ride on my fastball. I've got a good enough changeup and a good slider. The thing that he has is he's got the ride fastball that I do, but he's got a sinker that looks like a splitter."
Houck was pulled after five scoreless innings against Cleveland on Sept. 4 before taking a loss last Thursday in Chicago, when he allowed the White Sox four runs (three earned) on four hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings.
As for being on the Boston-Worcester shuttle?
"He could not have handled it any better," Sale said. "He showed up, threw the ball with everything he had."
The Red Sox and Mariners have split the first two games of the three-game series, with Boston winning 8-4 Tuesday as pinch hitter Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run double in the eighth inning to snap a 2-2 tie. J.D. Martinez, Bobby Dalbec and Alex Verdugo homered for the Red Sox.
Boston right-hander Nathan Eovaldi said it felt like the playoffs had already started.
"It's very fun, you know what I mean?" Eovaldi said. "I feel like everyone is drained after the game. Everybody's focusing, everybody's battling out there, grinding. It was a big team win for sure."
Said Mariners manager Scott Servais: "Exciting game, intense game. It's September baseball and it means something. It's fun to be a part of; unfortunately it didn't go our way (Tuesday)."
Seattle got two hits Tuesday from Mitch Haniger, who had homered in each of the previous three games.
--Field Level Media