No laughing matter: Henry Owens makes his mark in Triple-A debut

August 04, 2014 - 7:51 pm

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Henry Owens is a master of first impressions, and not just for what he does on the mound. The first word that several teammates use in describing the Red Sox' top pitching prospect is goofy. The pitcher created an unshakable early memory for catcher Blake Swihart at the 2010 Aflac All-American Game, at which Swihart remembers seeing a lanky Owens run out to the mound, pick up the rosin bag and, instead of using it for its intended purpose, chuck it across home plate, rosin flying in the wind. "That guy," Swihart said pointing at Owens, "is an absolute goofball." On the mound, Owens does everything but goof around. In his Triple-A debut Monday night for the Pawtucket Red Sox, Owens dominated the visiting Columbus Clippers. He carried a no-hitter through 5 1/3 innings before an infield single to Indians top prospect Francisco Lindor broke up the bid. He ended up delivering 6 2/3 innings, striking out nine (including the first four batters of the game), walking three, hitting one batter and allowing no runs. Owens, who threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, displayed a fastball that sat around 89 to 93 mph, a changeup that came in 77-79 mph and a curveball that was 69-72 mph. The 22-year-old displayed strong command of all three pitches and had the Clippers lineup guessing all night. Seeing hitters flail at incoming changeups and curveballs was a common sight throughout the outing, during which Owens seemed in complete control despite his inexperience at the level. "There is no fear. He trusts himself to throw his pitches in any point in the count and all three pitches," said PawSox manager Kevin Boles, taking stock of some of the improvements he'd seen in the pitcher since managing him in Double-A Portland at the end of last year. "It's not just the fastball, but to utilize that breaking ball and changeup and have that mix, the poise and composure, he doesn't let the game speed up. Another thing that he did well was his stretch times were good. There was an improvement there tonight from what we saw last year and just the aggressiveness, there is no fear of contact." The biggest area of growth in Owens' work on the mound has come primarily from his increased ability to repeat his delivery and thus sharpen the consistency of his strike-throwing and his command. "[Owens] has worked hard to repeat his mechanics and I think that's a focal point for him," said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett. "That has helped his fastball command get better as the year's progressed. He's worked hard on his breaking ball, making that more consistent both in terms of the quality and the usage. He's done a really nice job with that and the changeup has been a weapon from the start. It's been the equalizer that he can throw in any count. Continuing to get that exposure against both right-handed and left-handed hitters has been important." "When he makes a bad pitch or lets a pitch get away, his ability allows him to get back to his delivery and make a good pitch right after that and not let things compound and snowball and maybe take him out of the game," said catcher Matt Spring, who has caught Owens for two years. "He's trusting his delivery and the hard work he's put in has made him more mature pitcher in the sense that he can be more consistent more often." For Boles, Owens' makeup has stood out, both on the field and in the clubhouse. "Very poised. Guys love being around him. He lights up the clubhouse," Boles said. "There is no doubt about it, but the game makeup is a plus, the way he attacks the zone. There is no fear of contact. He is not afraid to throw any pitch at any time. You saw that when he was able to throw left-on-left changeups. He was able to throw his changeup in 3-2 counts and he was very unpredictable. That mound presence and poise and game makeup is a plus for him." Spring said that Owens is the type of pitcher who wants the ball more when there is more pressure. "He's a competitor," Spring said. "He wants to take the ball and he wants to take it late into the game. He's gotten out of going maybe five innings and being at his pitch count. He's increased efficiency with his pitch count, which has allowed him to get into the sixth, seventh, eighth a lot more." When asked about Owens' personality, Boles answered with a response fitting of the manager's view of the southpaw's attitude both on the mound and in the clubhouse. Said Boles: "He's a beauty."