By PAUL NEWBERRY
ATLANTA (AP) — Rookie right-hander Tanner Houck struck out 10 in another dominant performance, Christian Vazquez capped a big inning with a grand slam, and the Boston Red Sox routed the Atlanta Braves 8-2 Saturday night.
Giving the Red Sox reason to be hopeful after a dismal season, Houck (3-0) surrendered his first earned run in three big league starts but thoroughly stifled baseball’s most explosive offense.
Boston did all its scoring in an eight-run second capped by Vazquez’s second career grand slam.
The 24-year-old Houck surrendered only three hits, walked three and held the Braves scoreless until Dansby Swanson led off the fifth with his 10th homer.
Marcell Ozuna and Adeiny Hechavarría had the only other hits off the right-hander, who turned it over to the bullpen after throwing 94 pitches in six innings. His ERA for an abbreviated debut season was 0.53.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence right now,” Houck said. “But this game is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You’ve got to go out and produce outing to outing, year to year. There’s a lot of work to be done still. But I’m ready to put in the work.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker was certainly impressed.
“He’s nasty,” Snitker said. “He’s got a little funky delivery that he kind of crossfires at you. Guys like that are effectively wild. But his stuff was live.”
Tucker Davidson (0-1) was making his big league debut for the Braves, who already locked up the NL East and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Davidson breezed through the first, striking out two, but three walks and a shaky defense doomed him in the second.
“I got a little too excited and tried to do too much instead of taking that step back and going back to what I do,” Davidson said. “I’m frustrated for sure, but this isn’t my first bad outing and it’s probably not going to be my last. This game’s incredibly hard.”
After a walk, Bobby Dalbec hit a 449-foot drive into the empty left-field bleachers for a two-run homer. Hechavarría botched a grounder at third base for an error as the Red Sox loaded the bases, but Davidson could’ve escaped the inning without further damage if Swanson had turned a potential inning-ending double play.
The shortstop bobbled a grounder and could only get the force at second base, bringing home another run. Xander Bogaerts followed with a run-scoring single, Davidson doled out his third walk of the inning to J..D. Martinez to load the bases again, and the Braves went to the bullpen.
The move backfired when Grant Dayton served up a 1-0 pitch that Vazquez — who had started the inning with a flyout — launched into the second level down the left-field line.
Ron Roenicke isn’t sure if he’ll be back for another season as the Red Sox manager.
The 64-year-old Roenicke took over the job in January after Alex Cora was forced out due to his role in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. The Red Sox are last in the AL East.
“Of course, I would like to know either way. But whatever happens, I’ll be fine,” Roenicke said.
He seemed to make a pitch to keep the job.
“I feel like this year, as difficult as it was, I thought it went well on my end,” he said. “I tried to do everything I could to make things work out.”
As if the season wasn’t tough enough, Roenicke took a nasty tumble onto his back in the ninth inning while avoiding a liner into the dugout by Vazquez.
“It was not the most coordinated move to get out of the way,” the manager said. “I’m pretty sore, but it’s OK.”
Red Sox: RH Phillips Valdéz took a liner off the left leg in the eighth but was able to finish out the inning.
Braves: 3B Austin Riley is sitting out the final two games of the regular season to deal with a sore quadriceps. He tweaked the injury Friday and the Braves decided not to take any more chances ahead of the playoffs. “We’ll just stay away from him for the rest of the weekend,” Snitker said. “I think he’ll be fine.”
Red Sox: RH Nick Pivetta (1-0, 1.80) gets the nod in Boston’s final game of the season. He is 2-1 with a 4.10 ERA in seven career starts against the Braves.
Braves: RH Bryse Wilson (1-0, 4.26) will try build on an impressive performance in his first start of the season. He pitched five scoreless innings against the Miami Marlins in a win that clinched Atlanta’s third straight division title. Another strong outing could earn him a more prominent role in the Braves’ postseason pitching plans.
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