By Eddie Pannone
PAWTCUKET, R.I. – Red Sox top pitching prospect Henry Owens has pitched very well after a shaky start to his season, but you wouldn’t know it based on how Pawtucket has fared when he pitches. The team had lost four straight Owens starts, including three in which he allowed one run or less, going into Saturday’s game.
After a rough outing May 10 in Columbus where he walked six batters and was pulled after throwing 13 straight balls in the fifth inning, Owens strung together three good starts in a row. Despite poor run support, he has kept the PawSox in games by going at least five innings and keeping his offense within striking distance. His 2-3 record doesn’t dazzle anyone, but his recent hot streak put his ERA below 3.00 for the first time since opening day.
With a rotation in Boston struggling, many wonder why Owens hasn’t had his chance yet. If he continues to pitch well that chance will come sooner rather than later, but the 22-year old lefty has had his command issues this season. In six of his 10 starts he has walked four or more batters, something a big league team will exploit more often then not.
Owens took a step in the right direction Saturday in regards to his walks, pounding the strike zone early and often. Of his 94 pitches, 64 percent of them went for strikes. He was in control through five innings, working well off his fastball and getting many outs with the pitch. He allowed just one three-ball count and had not allowed any walks.
His sixth inning was a different story, as he allowed his three runs including a towering two-run home run from Eugenio Suarez. Following the home run, which came on a 3-1 count, Owens issued his first walk of the night before getting out of trouble. He didn’t factor in the decision as Pawtucket went on to win 5-4. Despite his poor sixth, the team was pleased with how he pitched.
“I felt good aside from a few misfires here and there,” Owens said, “but other than those I felt comfortable going inside and outside. My curve was a plus today and I threw it more than I usually do. The slider was good in key situations and it’s a pitch that’s moving forward for me. I’ve used it sparingly, trying to focus more on fastball command before I overuse it but when I went to it, it felt good.”
“He had more command of the zone,” manager Kevin Boles said. “It was unfortunate for him that he left a couple pitches up that were impacted, but overall I though it was a big improvement for him tonight. His lower half was more in sync and his timing was good with his delivery.”
Pounding the strike zone yielded a season high seven hits from Owens, but he tied his season low with one walk. This also marked the first time Pawtucket has won an Owens start since May 5 at Toledo.