Red Sox minor league roundup: Henry Owens routinely unhittable; Garin Cecchini rakes; Travis Shaw, Deven Marrero slump

July 23, 2013 - 8:11 am
Henry Owens was a dominant pitcher in high school, one who made no-hitters a regular part of his performance line. How many no-hitters did he throw at Edison High School in Huntington Beach? "I think three or four," Owens said on the most recent "Down on the Farm." "I don't remember." In spring training this year, the left-hander didn't quite throw a no-hitter, but he did turn (spin might be a more accurate verb choice) heads when he gave up one hit and struck out 13 of the 15 batters he faced in an intrasquad outing. Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves had been on hand on the back fields at the Sox' spring training facility in Fort Myers for that one. "[Nieves] came up to me after and said, 'You do that every time out?' " Owens recalled. Well, maybe he does. Owens, a left-hander who turned 21 on Sunday (and celebrated his coming-of-age by joining this podcast), fired six no-hit innings while matching a career-high with 10 strikeouts last Wednesday against Frederick. In the previous outing, he'd finished by refusing to permit a hit in his final four innings. So, the 2011 supplemental first-rounder entered his start on Monday with 10 straight no-hit innings. His encore? Five more no-hit innings with nine strikeouts on Monday against the Potomac Nationals. Just as was the case in his prior outing, Owens showed the ability to attack both sides of the plate with his fastball while also elevating with the pitch. He also featured what pitching coach Kevin Walker described (via text) as a great changeup with depth, something that permitted Owens to disrupt the timing of the Potomac lineup throughout the contest. The trait comes naturally for a 6-foot-7 left-hander who features an angle that makes the ball (and spin) incredibly difficult to pick up; when he is on, the ability to mix a low-90s fastball (topping out at 94 mph, mostly around 91 mph) with a swing-and-miss changeup that is an action pitch can allow him to dominate. That's precisely what's been happening of late. Owens now has 15 straight no-hit innings for High-A Salem. In his last two starts, he's delivered 11 no-hit innings with 19 strikeouts. He's struggled with his control in that time, walking seven (four last Wednesday, three with a hit batter on Monday). Still, clearly, he's amidst an extraordinary run of unhittability -- not just during his last three starts and 15 innings, but for the year. He has a 2.78 ERA, fourth best in the Carolina League. Opponents are hitting .182 against him, the best mark in the Carolina League and the fourth-best mark in all of minor league baseball among full-season, qualifying starters. He has 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, third in the league (minimum 75 innings). His walks total (7.7 per nine innings over his last five starts, 4.6 per nine innings on the season) represent an area of concern. But beyond that, it would be hard to find too much that's holding Owens back from a promotion. Still, Owens doesn't sound too anxious about when he will force his way up to Double-A Portland. "They told me they're not going to tell me when I'm ready, I'm going to tell them," said Owens. "The only thing I can control is what I can control on the field. When the time comes, it will come, and hopefully I can carry over and keep doing my thing in Double-A." TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: RAINED OUT DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-4 WIN, 8-3 WIN AT NEW BRITAIN (TWINS) (BOX GAME 1, BOX GAME 2) -- Garin Cecchini had a pair of multi-hit games, going 4-for-9 with a double and two steals in the doubleheader. Prior to Tuesday, the 22-year-old had gone eight straight games without a multi-hit performance. His line in Portland (.330/.423/.491) and overall for the year (.344/.455/.528). His .455 OBP for the year between Salem and Portland remains the second-best in all of minor league baseball. -- Travis Shaw went 0-for-5 with two walks in the doublehader, deepening what has been a fairly horrific slump. In his last 16 games, he's 4-for-52 with four walks, resulting in a .077/.169/.231 line. It's worth noting that his slump coincides with a hard-to-fathom .054 batting average on balls in play, and that his strikeout total during the slump has been within reason (14 in 59 plate appearances), so one would expect an uptick in performance at some point. Still, the 23-year-old first baseman now finds himself with a .215/.338/.374 line for the season. -- Catcher Matt Spring went 2-for-4 with a pair of homers in the second game of the doubleheader, his second multi-homer game of the season and his career. The 28-year-old has slammed eight homers in 36 games this year, with a line of .248/.297/.512. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 5-2 WIN AT POTOMAC (NATIONALS) (BOX) -- Stefan Welch, 24, homered for the third straight game. The first baseman, acquired from the Pirates in June, has been on a tear in July, hitting .403/.489/.625 with four homers and 18 RBI in 21 games. -- Deven Marrero, who got off to a tremendous start to the second half, has seen his performance slide more recently. The 2012 first-rounder went 0-for-4 with a pair of punchouts on Monday, and is now hitting .150/.209/.200 in his last 10 games with three walks and 13 strikeouts. On the year, he's hitting .257/.337/.333. -- Right-hander Matt Price saw his streak of 10 straight relief appearances without allowing a run come to an end, as he allowed a run on two hits and a walk while punching out one. Nonetheless, over his last 22 games since May 9, the 2010 eighth-rounder has a 0.89 ERA with 37 strikeouts and 11 walks in 30 1/3 innings. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 7-3 LOSS VS. LEXINGTON (ROYALS) (BOX) -- Left-hander Cody Kukuk gave up three runs on four hits (all singles) and three walks while punching out four in four innings. Control issues (48 of 88 pitches for strikes, 55 percent) led to a relatively early exit for the 20-year-old, who saw his string of three straight starts of five or more innings come to an end. -- Second baseman Reed Gragnani went 2-for-4 and drove in all three runs for the Drive. After going 0-for-13 in his first four games in Single-A (after a promotion from Lowell), the 2013 21st rounder out of the University of Virginia is 5-for-14 with three walks (.357 average, .471 OBP) and three strikeouts in his last four games. SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: RAINED OUT ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 2-0 WIN AT GCL ORIOLES (BOX) -- Right-hander Dioscar Romero, an imposing 18-year-old (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), fired five shutout innings in which he allowed just one hit (a double), walked no one and punched out three. The walk-free outing represented a departure from Romero's first four starts, in which he issued 12 free passes in 10 innings. -- Irrepressible 17-year-old Wendell Rijo went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. In his last dozen games, he's hitting .429/.519/.595 with seven walks and just one strikeout, showing both plate discipline and an ability to put the bat on the ball when he does swing. DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE RED SOX: 7-6 WIN (11 INNINGS, COMPLETION OF 7/4 SUSPENDED GAME), 6-3 WIN AT DSL RAYS (BOX GAME 1, BOX GAME 2) -- Luis Alejandro Basabe went 3-for-4 with his fourth triple of the season. The 16-year-old second baseman is now hitting .253/.385/.385. Of the switch-hitter's eight extra-base hits, all have come while batting left-handed. He's hitting .284/.400.446 against righties, and just .118/.318/.118 against lefties. -- Left-hander Dedgar Jimenez continues to attack the strike zone and overpower DSL competition. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound southpaw allowed two hits (both singles), walked one and struck out six, dropping his ERA to 1.62 with 38 strikeouts and five walks in 39 innings.