August 5, 2014 at 2:20 PM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Henry Owens often dazzled and shut down opposing offenses for over a year in Portland. On Monday night, he finally got his chance to prove he could continue to do that at the highest level of the minors in Pawtucket, and he did not disappoint. He did not allow a hit until the sixth inning of his Triple-A debut, struck out seven in the first three innings, and left to a raucous standing ovation that he said gave him chills.
According to the catcher who came up with Owens and was promoted just before the game to catch his first start, the transition did not phase the tall lefty at all.
“He looked like he was having fun out there. Same old Henry, going out there and competing,” Blake Swihart said following the start.
Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles had similar thoughts on his transition, saying, “I think a lot of guys get caught up in the moment. I’ve talked about not assuming you have to make an adjustment. He’s had success, and just needs to build on that. That’s what he did—he just carried over what he was doing in Portland. And a lot of guys have nerves, they look like the game speeds up on them, but we never saw that from him tonight.”
It helped that Owens was able to work with Swihart, who has caught all but two of his starts this season and more than 60-percent of his professional starts over three seasons. The two have been teammates since 2012, with Owens’ promotion to Portland last August the lone exception.
“They were on the same page,” Boles said of the batterymates. “And that’s not by accident—they read the pitch plan—but they fell into a groove. The tempo and pace, I think that was a plus for our guys tonight. Those two guys definitely established that pace.”
Owens agreed: “I don’t think we missed a beat out there today. I disagreed with him once and ended up walking a guy, so I should have listened.”
In total, Owens pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing two hits and no runs while walking three and striking out nine.
“He was unpredictable the whole time. They never really fell into a groove,” Boles said. “Owens definitely showed weapons tonight.”
The weapons he showed were an 89-92 mph fastball, a 76-79 mph changeup, and a 69-74 mph curveball according to the McCoy Stadium radar gun. The wide discrepancy in velocity that he showed across his pitch selection helped keep the opposing hitters off-balance.
“He definitely has a pitch mix,” Boles said. “Fastball command with some late life. I think there’s some deception there—it’s a sneaky fastball. The breaking ball was quality, the hand speed on the changeup was above average.
“Physically, he looks like he’s getting bigger and stronger. It looks like the velocity’s ticked up a little bit. Just the repeatability of the delivery—I thought he was in sync and had a good rhythm”
Owens’ changeup is his best pitch, but his curveball, which has lagged behind, flashed impressively in this start. In total, he recorded five of his nine strikeouts on the curveball, with another two apiece on the fastball and changeup. The curveball elicited both silly-looking swing-and-misses, and he was able to drop it in for a called strike at times.
“[The curveball]’s always been a weapon and I think the difference of velocity with the three pitches, you see hitters get out in front quite a bit,” Boles said. “It looks like it’s going to be a pitch out of the zone elevated and then all of the sudden it drops in for a strike. And he’s able to miss below the zone when he gets ahead in the count. Being able to miss where you want to is pretty impressive when you get ahead with two strikes.”
Swihart said that Owens has taken a keen interest in improving the curve this season.
“He was telling me, he said people were saying that he doesn’t have a curveball [in the offseason]. So he was like, ‘Hey, let’s go show them I have a curveball.’ So there it is.”
Owens explained: “I’ve been working on it the whole year. Not just on the mound, I’ve been working on it in days between: front toss, bullpens. It’s come a long ways.”
His demeanor and poise on the mound also was noted by teammates and coaches. It stood out how quickly and efficiently he worked, the game wrapping up in a tidy two hours, 29 minutes.
“I just think that there’s no fear. He trusts himself, he trusts to throw his pitches at any point in the count, all three pitches,” Boles said. “It’s not just the fastball, but to utilize that breaking ball and changeup and have that mix. The poise, the composure—he doesn’t let the game speed up.”
Swihart agreed about Owens’ mound presence, but was quick to say that it’s not all serious with him.
“Bigtime competitor. He’s not afraid of anybody,” the catcher said. “Yeah, [when] he comes in to the dugout, he’s a goofball, he has a good time. But once he steps on that mound, he’s having fun again and competing.”
As for the no-hit bid, it is just one of a few such bids Owens has had in his minor league career. He said his mindset is always to just focus on getting the first batter out and not worrying about hits in those scenarios. He briefly let his “goofball” side show though when talking about the infield hit that broke it up in the sixth. Deven Marrero made a great diving play into the hole to stop the ball, but had no chance to throw out the runner.
“Yeah, Deven’s got to make that play,” Owens said before breaking into a big grin and quickly following up. “I’m just kidding. That was a good try.”
Though it seems unlikely that Owens will get a major league call-up this season for a few reasons, such as service time considerations and other pitchers who seemingly deserve a shot first, but if he pitches like this for the rest of the season, the organization may well have to find a spot for him in Boston before long.
Photo credit: Henry Owens by Kelly O'Connor
Matt Huegel is managing editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.