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April 25, 2012 at 3:54 PM

Owens fans seven in short outing

Henry Owens (Kelly O'Connor)
SALISBURY, MD. – Greenville left-hander Henry Owens recorded his best statistical start of the season in the Drive’s 9-4 win over Delmarva (BAL) Wednesday morning. Owens went 3.2 innings and struck out seven, but allowed two runs on five hits and three walks to lower his season ERA to 10.05.

On the positive side, Owens’ seven strikeouts on the day make it four straight starts with seven or more. 29 of the 43 outs he has recorded have been on strikeouts.

But again, Owens didn’t make it past the fourth inning, and only escaped a fate similar to his first three starts—a late barrage of runs—when Yeiper Castillo got out of a bases-loaded jam to end the fourth. Owens exited the game after 77 pitches—44 of which were strikes. Castillo picked up the win with 2.1 innings of scoreless relief.

“I just fell behind a few batters late, but I felt good,” Owens said after the game. “I’m just trying to get through that fifth inning. I think through the first two innings, I was at 47 pitches, so after that, I started calming down. Early in the game, I’ve got to establish my fastball, try and get guys out in three pitches or less, and pitch to contact.”

Owens struck out the final two batters of the first inning, the first swinging at a hard curveball in the dirt and the last on an elevated 91 mph fastball. But the Shorebirds were on Owens’ fastball early, fouling off several in the first two at-bats of the game to send him into the dugout having thrown 24 pitches in the first.

Owens threw 23 more pitches in the second, opening the frame by throwing a backdoor curveball for a called third strike to right fielder Michael Planeta. But a five-pitch walk and a single to left field put runners on with one out, and shortstop Sammie Starr plated both when he pushed an off-speed pitch the other way into right field for a two-run single.

The 19-year-old left-hander struck out left fielder John Ruetigger on an 0-2 curveball to open an 11-pitch third inning. After a five-pitch walk, Owens posted his sixth strikeout of the game on a backdoor 70 mph curveball. He picked off the runner at first one pitch later.

The fourth was where Owens ran into trouble. He gave up back-to-back singles to open the inning before picking up his final strikeout of the night, this time on an elevated 91 mph fastball. He coaxed a pop-up to second baseman Nick Natoli on the first pitch of the next at-bat, but even after an encouragement visit from catcher Jordan Weems, Owens walked his final batter of the game on four pitches and ceded to Castillo.

After the game, Owens, who was drafted out of Edison (Cal.) High School with the 36th overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft and signed for $1.55 million, lamented his early exit.

“Establishing my pitches will essentially bring down my pitch count,” he said. “The only thing I’m trying to do is give the team a chance to win, so if I can get to the fifth inning and we have a lead, that’s all I’m trying to do.”

Owens featured a low-90s fastball and worked his changeup off that pitch, but also utilized two different curveballs in the outing.

“If I think they’re looking fastball, I’ll throw (the curve) a little slower to see if I can get them out in front of it or to take one,” Owens said. “Then with two strikes, sometimes I’ll throw it a little harder and spike one in the dirt.” The former, Owens' “get-me-over” curve, was between 69-71 MPH, while the harder one sat in the mid 70s. Early in the start, Owens struggled with commanding his off-speed pitches.

“I was coming out curveball out of my leg kick,” he said. “When I’m coming out curveball, it’s going to drift on me and float on me. I’ve got to stay fastball longer. I talked to (Greenville pitching coach Dick Such) and got on top of it in later innings.”

Such said repeating his mechanics is going to be key to Owens keeping his pitch-count low and throwing deeper into games.

“He’s been showing flashes, but his concentration level falls off at times,” Such said. “Mechanically, he’s long and lean, and to repeat his delivery is not consistently there right now. When he does, he shows you some outstanding stuff… (But) he’s young and he can’t repeat his mechanics enough. He threw a lot of pitches for the time he was out there.”

Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli