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July 26, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Q&A with Michael Bowden

Michael Bowden entered this season knowing that he would be coming out of the bullpen full-time for the first time in his career. As a supplemental first-round draft pick out of Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Ill. in 2005, Bowden enjoyed success as a starter at an early age at nearly every stop along the way in minors, reaching the major leagues for a spot start at the age of 21. Following that first start in 2008, however, he made only one other major league start before the decision was made to transition him into a full-time bullpen role midway through the 2010 season. This season, despite frequently shuttling back-and-forth between the majors and Triple-A, Bowden has consistently pitched well out of the bullpen with Pawtucket. All told, he has pitched 42.0 innings over 30 appearances for the PawSox this season, putting up an ERA of 2.79 to go along with 12 saves, 53 strikeouts, and a 1.24 WHIP. With Boston, he has managed a nifty 1.29 ERA in 2011, but has only pitched 7.0 innings in 6 appearances, striking out 2. When I recently got a chance to sit down with Bowden before a PawSox game, he talked about dealing with riding the “I-95 shuttle” between Pawtucket and Boston, gaining consistency at the major league level, his transition to the bullpen, and the reinvention of his repertoire over the past couple seasons.

Matt Huegel: How have you been able to adapt to being called up and sent down? Is that tough mentally and pitching-wise?
Michael Bowden: Pitching, not so much. It’s still a matter of when I go up (to Boston), I’m up there for short periods of time, so it’s tough to get really comfortable up there. But I feel like the more I go up there, the more comfortable that I become, so I’ll be able to actually pitch my game and go up there with the same approach that I have here and eventually get the same results that I’m getting here. It’s just a matter of when I’ll get that opportunity and when I can be up there on a more consistent basis to show them that.
But as far as going up and down, it’s just part of it. It’s right down the road, so it’s not a very tough transition. I’ve got friends up there, very good guys in the bullpen, in the clubhouse, so it’s a very easy transition. It’s fun here, it’s fun there, and I’m happy every time I get to go up there.

MH: What have you noticed are the biggest differences between getting hitters out at the Triple-A level and at the major league level?
MB: A well-executed pitch here is a well-executed pitch there. I think it’s more (a matter) of me just executing my pitches more consistently up there. And I think, like I said earlier, that’s just a matter of me feeling more and more comfortable up there where I can do it on a more consistent basis.
But also, hitters, they’ll just put together a little bit better at bats up there; they’re smarter; they’ll work the counts a little more. But if you’re throwing your game, throwing good strikes, good pitches, you’ll get the same results as here.

MH: Now that you’ve been in the relieving role for this whole season, how would you say that fits you as a pitcher?
MB: I like it a lot. Like you said this is the first year I’ve actually started in the bullpen, but after the last All Star break when I was converted to the bullpen I was still learning a lot. I learned a lot from the guys here at Triple-A that we had last year and I learned a lot from the (big league) guys when I got called up in September. So everything that I’ve learned from them has helped mold me to how I go about my business now. Also getting the opportunity to play in winter ball this offseason, and seeing different types of roles, closing, eighth inning, stuff like that, I believe really helped me out. This season I just feel very comfortable in the bullpen, every time I go out there I kind of know my job. I think I have the mindset for the bullpen role, and I think it suits me very well.

MH: What would you say is your favorite aspect of the relieving versus starting?
MB: I like them both in their own rights. But as far as being in the bullpen, I think it’s awesome to come to the park every day and you’ve got to be ready to go. There’s a chance that you might get in the game and play.

MH: In terms of your arsenal, it seems like in the past couple seasons you’ve really reinvented yourself. Has the slider been your main breaking pitch since moving to the bullpen?
MB: Yeah. Fastball, slider, cutter, and changeup. Right now, I feel like I have control over all of them. All of them have been very effective for me getting outs. And they’ve been consistent so it’s fun going out there. Finally, the slider’s to where I want it to be and I’m throwing it for strikes, I’m throwing it for an out-pitch, so I have very good command over it.

MH: So do you throw the curveball at all anymore or just strictly slider?
MB: No, I haven’t thrown a curveball in two years.

MH: What went into that decision to switch to the slider?
MB: I had a 12-6 curveball, and it was just hard for me to consistently throw that for strikes. By the time it went over the plate, there wasn’t a big margin of space for that to drop in for a strike, and I couldn’t do it consistently. So I just wanted something that I could throw more consistently for strikes, and also a little sharper and harder.

MH: You added the cutter even more recently. How has that been going and how do you use that pitch?
MB: It’s been going real well. I started this offseason, but right now it’s getting to the point where I’m using it fairly consistently. I’m throwing it to righties to just get mis-hits. I’m also throwing it to lefties – in to them, getting in on their hands. It looks like my fastball, and it’s just a mis-hit pitch. I’m throwing it for strikes and it’s gotten very good results.

MH: One of your trademarks is your unique pitching motion. We’ve heard at different times that you’ve tried to clean that up or do different things with it in the offseason. Have coaches ever tried to completely change it to a more traditional motion? And do you think that sort of funky motion works to your advantage especially out of the bullpen?
MB: This is probably the first year I’ve actually gone into the season knowing exactly what I’m going to do with my mechanics. Every year, I’ve been working on something, trying to clean it up, trying to simplify it, just trying to see what works for me. And yeah, there’s been coaches with a lot of different suggestions, but now I’m to the point in my career where I know what I have to do, I know what feels good, and that’s what I’m going to do. So I feel very comfortable right now with my mechanics.

MH: Having been in the organization now since 2005, have you been able to take more of a leadership role on this team this year?
MB: Yeah. I’m not a very vocal guy, but I feel like I’m very professional. I go about my business the right way, and I just try to lead by example, whether it’s in the bullpen or in the clubhouse. I mean, I’m still not nearly the oldest guy here, so there’s other guys that have that role, but I’ve been actually on the PawSox a lot more than anybody here. I know my way around, so I’m a guy that people ask for questions around here, how to do stuff around here sometimes. So I just try to go about my business the right way.

MH: Over those years, your name has cropped up in countless trade rumors. How have you been able to deal with that? How do you keep that from affecting your pitching?
MB: It’s very simple to deal with. Nothing’s happened yet, so it’s out of my control. I mean, I don’t pay attention to it, I don’t care about it. It’s been since 2005 and nothing’s happened so it’s nothing that bothers me or worries me or has me thinking.

MH: What is your best memory as a professional thus far?
MB: It’s still probably my [major league] debut, just that feeling. It was very special. You know, just going up there and getting the start, just making it to the major leagues, all the hard work and everything that I’ve ever dreamed of finally came true. So I’d say it’s that, but I’m hoping to replace that in the near future with some more memories.

MH: Lastly, during your time in the organization is there one player that has stood out to you, either by the way they lead or their abilities?
MB: This organization does a real good job at not only drafting players, but signing players with very solid personalities, good character, whether it’s in the minors or in the big leagues. So everywhere you go, you’re going to run into guys who are just good guys, good people to be around, and they know the game and they’re fun to play with. I think that’s really important, because you spend 10 hours a day together for however many months in a row. So there’s not really one person who stands out to me.
I mean, one of the players I really respect is Jason Varitek. He’s so easy to talk to, even with the younger guys, you can ask him anything. He doesn’t have an ego, and he’s very respectful to you. He’s just a good guy, and I really look up to him as a player.