Allen Lessels' On Baseball: Owens impresses on the mound
HENRY OWENS placed yet another 90 mile per hour fastball nicely on the outside corner to strike out Adam Loewen for the third straight time and got Lance Zawadzki to line out to left field and that was it.
Portland manager Kevin Boles went to the mound and got the long and lanky Owens — considered by some the best Red Sox pitching prospect still in the minor leagues and one of the best left-handed prospects in all of baseball — and his next extended stride was toward the Sea Dog dugout.
His longest and perhaps best start in five Double-AA appearances, and another memorable Manchester moment for a Red Sox-star-on-the-rise, was in the books with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday night.
Owens — the Sea Dogs list him as a 6-foot, 6-inch 205-pounder, but he says he's 6-foot-7 and 215 — allowed but two hits and no runs and left on a roll. He retired the last dozen batters he faced on an assortment of well-placed fastballs, nasty changeups and curves.
"I would say it was my best," Owens said of his outing. "Any time I can go deeper into a game, it's more value to the team and gives us a better chance to win."
He had gone three, five, four and six innings in his previous four starts. In 24 and two-thirds innings, he has allowed 12 hits, struck out 38 and walked 14.
Owens upped his personal record to 3-0 and lowered his earned run average to 1.09. The Sea Dogs are 5-0 in the games he has started since getting promoted from Single-A Salem on Aug. 1.
Yes, he's seems to be getting comfortable in Double-AA. By taking batters out of their comfort zones.
"He was able to throw all his pitches on all the counts for strikes and when you can do that, from a hitters' standpoint, it makes you real uncomfortable up there," said Matt Spring, who caught Owens in what turned into a 9-2 Portland win on Tuesday. "You can't just go up there and look for a fastball when he's throwing his other pitches for strikes."
He didn't have as good a feel for his curveball as usual, so he used the changeup more.
"Today, they were fouling off my curve and I was like, 'Why am I throwing a pitch that they're fouling off?' Owens said. "Why don't I throw my changeup that they're swinging through and my fastball that they're making weak contact with? It's kind of reading a team the first time through."
Tuesday's effort may not has been as dominating as Jonathan Papelbon's eight-inning one-hitter and John Lester's seven-inning, one-hittter that the Sea Dogs came up with against the Fisher Cats in the span of about six weeks in the 2005 season, but it was impressive still.
Owens struck out only six on Tuesday, but they came in the last 11 batters he faced.
"For him to keep this lineup off balance was pretty impressive," Boles said.
He does it by throwing the fastballs at 90 and the changeups and curves in the high-60s and a little above with a consistent delivery and arm speed, said Boles and Spring.
"The changeup has been terrific," Boles said. "The arm speed's the same on all three pitches and they're all different velocities. Nobody's been able to pick it up yet."
Added Spring: "I mean, he's seven-feet tall and he throws everything with good arm speed."
Owens walked one on Tuesday, bouncing back nicely from his previous outing when he walked seven – half his AA total - in just three innings.
"His game makeup is phenomenal," Boles said. "He turns the page, no matter what happens the outing before, good or bad. He's ready to go."
Owens has had that approach for a while.
He turned 21 last month and was starring in high school just over two years ago when the Red Sox took him as a sandwich round pick (No. 36 overall) in the 2011 draft out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Cal.
"His stuff was so good," said Edison director of athletics Rich Boyce by phone on Wednesday morning. "You could tell he was destined for something big, destined to play in the big leagues someday. He's got that makeup, that drive to do it in baseball. It's such a failure sport and he's got the makeup to battle and come back from mistakes. Nothing bothers him much."
Boyce coaches basketball at Edison and at one point thought he could recruit Owens — athletic and tall no matter the specific height — to his team.
"We tried to get him out there, but once you saw him on the mound, you knew he made the right call," Boyce said.
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