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PAWTUCKET — While teammates in Double-A Portland, Matt Spring had the opportunity to catch many of Henry Owens’ day-after-he-started side sessions.
Mechanics and pitch repertoire aside, those informal bullpen outings allowed Spring to acquire a deeper sense of what makes Owens tick. Even in low-pressurized situations, the lanky left-hander still displayed a competitive zest that really wasn’t all that different when Owens took the ball for the Sea Dogs once every five days.
“He works very hard to make sure he’s developing his rhythm and timing,” said Spring on Friday, the same day that saw the Red Sox promote Owens, the organization’s highly-regarded pitching prospect, to Pawtucket. “He’s just a good competitor when he’s out there.”
And a successful one if you go strictly by the stellar numbers that Owens put up in Portland. The 22-year-old went 14-4 with a 2.60 ERA, sprinkling in three complete games and two shutouts. Listed at 6-foot-7, 200 pounds, Owens struck out 126 compared to 47 walks with a WHIP of 1.12 while holding Eastern League hitters to a .201 batting average.
Owens arrived at McCoy Stadium early Friday afternoon – he was informed of his summons Thursday following Portland’s home loss to Trenton. Shortly after getting comfortable in his new surroundings, Owens was called into the manager Kevin Boles’ office where he learned that he would make his Triple-A debut Monday night at McCoy against Columbus.
In many ways, Owens’ 2014 season is mimicking how last year played out. After spending the bulk of 2013 in Single-A Salem, Owens joined Portland with roughly a month to go in the regular season. He wound up making six starts in Double-A, a sum that could very well end up proving the number of games he gets into with the PawSox before the curtain gets officially lowered.
“Based on ending last year in Portland, I thought I would get a promotion if I had earned it,” said Owens. “As far as expectations, I’m going to take it day by day. I’m looking forward to getting on the mound for this (PawSox) ball club that’s been doing really well lately. Hopefully we can keep the train rolling.”
Part of a star-studded 2011 Red Sox draft class that includes Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Matt Barnes, Owens tossed 121 innings in 20 starts for the Sea Dogs. A year ago, he worked 135 innings.
“He’s in decent shape so we don’t have a hard innings cap on him. He’s still throwing the ball well and remains strong,” said Ben Crockett, Red Sox director of player development. “It’s been a positive year that’s seen him make great strides.”
Added Owens, “They don’t have a specific number, but I’m sure they have some sort of plan. Right now the focus on continuing to develop.”
Featuring a fastball that generally sits in the low 90s, Owens also relies on a changeup that one scout graded out as a double-plus pitch and a curveball that is still in the process of being ironed out.
“It’s always been there. I just haven’t used it as much as other people want me to,” Owens said when asked about the evolution of his curveball. “I think it’s coming along great and I look forward to continue to make that pitch evolve into a high-caliber weapon.”
As someone who has worked with Owens quite a bit, Spring would seem the perfect candidate to ask about the pitcher’s efforts to harmonize his curve.
“He’s worked really hard to throw it in two-strike counts as well as early in the count just to get a strike and keep the hitter off balance,” Spring said. “It’s a credit to his ability to develop a consistent delivery that allows him to throw all of his pitches for strikes.”
Owens was a consensus midseason top-50 prospect selection by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN minor-league guru Keith Law. If that wasn’t enough attention, he earned the starting nod for Team USA at last month’s Futures All-Star Game tilt.
Now that he’s only one step removed from the Red Sox, the comparisons of whether Owens can fill the top-of-the-rotation void that up until Thursday was held by fellow southpaw Jon Lester. To his credit, Owens did not stir clear of Lester’s name when it was brought to his attention.
“If I’m mentioned in the same breath as Jon Lester, I would be more than satisfied. His accolades for this organization ... you can’t really surpass what he’s done in the past eight years,” Owens stated. “Hopefully he’s in a Red Sox uniform again it’s going to be awesome to see what he does for the Athletics in the playoffs.”
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