This was my first time watching the lanky lefty who has made Jon Lester expendable. The Red Sox won't come out and say it, but I just did. The Red Sox have faith that they have their next Lester in Henry Owens.
The 22-year-old has coasted through the minors. Last year, he had a 2.67 ERA at two different stops in the low minors. This year, he has a 15-5 record and a 2.76 ERA after 24 starts at AA and AAA. Thursday's game represented Owens' fourth start at Pawtucket. The PawSox clubhouse manager need not worry about putting a nameplate on Owens' locker because it is not expected he will stay here long.
The first thing that struck me about Owens is his poise. From the pregame bullpen session right through the eight solid innings that Owens pitched in the game, he was in complete control. He has a tunnel vision focus about him and a quiet confidence.
In terms of "stuff," I was mildly surprised that the 6'6" lefty does not have an overpowering fastball. He works mostly in the 90-91 mph range. He, occasionally, dialed it up to 94 on the McCoy Stadium gun. The thing that makes Owens so effective is his ability to change speeds. He threw pitches ranging from 94 mph down to 70 mph and everywhere in between. As I mentioned, he threw his fastball anywhere from 89-94 mph. He also threw his curveball from 70-81 mph. It's almost as if batters were facing two different pitchers. No wonder many were off-balance.
Owens was extremely efficient on this night. It took him only 72 pitches to get through six innings. His one mistake -- if you want to call it that -- was coughing up a two-run home run the opposite way to Tyler Henson. Henson will be able to tell his grandkids one day that he once homered off Henry Owens. The fact of the matter is that the eighth-place hitting Henson was extremely late on a good fastball by Owens and happened to make solid contact.
Owens final line for the night read as follows: 8 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. He threw 96 pitches- 58 for strikes. Owens looks ready for the majors right now. I fully expect him to make two or three starts for Boston in September and then to be in their starting rotation next year. The only concern is that he is already almost at 150 innings pitched this season. He threw 135 in 2013. In this day and age of placing young pitchers on innings limits, the Red Sox may choose to shut down Owens in September which would prevent him from making those couple of starts in Fenway.
Make no mistake about it, Owens is not a finished product. He still has things to work on. Last year he had a tendency to be wild and with his lanky frame you can understand why. But he has improved on his control this year. Now he has to work on his secondary pitches. His curveball may be a little too slow when he is spinning it up there in the low 70s. He could also work on making it "bite" more as sometimes he tosses it up to the plate and the result is a nothing pitch. Major League hitters will be smart enough to identify his pitches and pulverize substandard offerings. It appears Owens realizes he needs work on it, as he leaned heavily on his curveball for large portions of the game.
Oh yeah-- the game. As for the game, Lehigh Valley's Sean O'Sullivan matched Owens out-for-out. The game was tied, 2-2, going to the bottom of the ninth inning. Corey Brown, who was playing his first game for Pawtucket after having a cup of coffee with Boston, came to bat with one out and lined a rocket over the right field wall for the walk-off win. The homer was Brown's 17th for Pawtucket this season.
The PawSox finish their second-to-last homestand of the regular season on Friday night with one more game against Lehigh Valley. Recently demoted Steven Wright will take the hill for Pawtucket when the game starts at 7:05 p.m.