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July 17, 2013 at 11:09 PM

Owens strikes out 10 in combined no-hitter

FREDERICK, Md. -- Salem left-hander Henry Owens rode what he said was the best curveball he’s had all season to six no-hit, shutout innings as part of a combined no-hitter in Salem’s 6-0 win Wednesday at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick.

“(The curveball) today was the best it’s been all year,” Owens said. “Earlier in the year, I’d have some drift up and in to lefties, but today it was either a strike or a ball low, so that was good. And my breaking ball was there. The fastball sets up the breaking ball, and the changeup is good every start.

Owens, who turns 21 on Sunday, pitched off his 91-93 mph fastball with a changeup that sat 77-80 mph and his low-70s curveball with tremendous success against the Keys. He fanned ten, walked four, and hit a batter, but allowed just one ball to be hit out of the infield.

Relievers Matty Ott and Matt Price combined for three spotless innings of relief to secure the no-hitter.

Owens began the outing in dominant fashion, inducing a one-pitch groundout to start the game and following it up with a pair of strikeouts, one swinging and one looking. Owens proceeded to fan the first two batters of the second inning to make it four in a row, and was at just 21 pitches through two innings.

In the third, Owens continued to mix his pitches well. He worked around a two-out walk and an error on first baseman Matt Gedman to pick up his sixth strikeout of the game, this one by freezing the batter with a 70-mph changeup.

Salem pitching coach Kevin Walker said Owens’ fastball command was “very special” towards the beginning of the game, when he worked the pitch to both sides of the plate and didn’t elevate it until late in the count.

Owens survived a scare in the fourth after he hit leadoff batter Nicky Delmonico in the side of the head with a fastball, and followed it up with a four-pitch walk. But after a visit from Walker, Owens buckled down to coax a pop-up and a pair of swinging strikeouts on changeups to increase his total to eight and keep the Keys off the board.

Two walks in the fifth put Owens in another jam, but with one out, the Red Sox got out unscathed on the rare strikeout-batter’s interference double play when the batter got in the way of catcher Blake Swihart’s throw to second.

Each time he lost his command, Walker said he saw Owens make a quick adjustment — something he said was a “work in progress” this season.

“He understood what he did and was able to get back to it, but he had good off-speed pitches to go to when he felt like maybe the fastball command was going away from him,” Walker said. “This is a guy that learns. We sometimes forget that he’s 20 years old, and he’s still learning and in his development. Every time he goes out is another step in his development, but he’s making quicker decisions on the fly.”

Walker also lauded Owens’ use of his changeup, agreeing that it was the strongest the pitch has looked this season and noting that Owens has been “really adamant” about improving it.

Owens’ tenth strikeout of the night came on a 78-mph changeup to lead off the sixth, and the left-hander finished up his six no-hit innings on a popup to Swihart. He threw 89 pitches on the evening — 51 for strikes — before yielding to Ott in the seventh.

Owens, who said he threw "a few" no-hitters in high school, improved to 7-4 with a 2.93 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 92 innings.

Ott and Price combined for three scoreless innings to complete the no-hitter, with Ott striking out two in two perfect innings and Price working around a leadoff walk in the ninth to complete the gem.

“They’ve been nails all year,” Owens said of the relief duo. “Ott just threw four scoreless innings in Portland, and Price… he’s unhittable right now too. It was good to see them in there, too. I was pretty confident.”

Walker said Ott “attacked the zone with sinker, slider like he always does,” and “Price has been a steady rock for us as well.”

“It’s kind of a great night,” he said. “It was obviously unassuming coming in after a day off, but heck, man, we’ll take it.”

Photo Credit: Henry Owens by Kelly O'Connor

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