Red Sox Henry Owens Needs 2016 To Be Big
Pitcher Henry Owens needs his performance in 2016 to be exceptional, especially if he wishes to be a starter for the Boston Red Sox.
Jason Mastrodonato of The Boston Herald believes that Owens is the man to possibly fill the role as the fifth starter in the pitching rotation: “If it wasn’t enough that Owens held opponents to a .628 OPS in his final five starts last season, which placed him in the top-10 among American League starters during that time, or that every time he allowed multiple runs he then followed it up by allowing one or zero runs in the very next start, the 23-year-old lefty is now one year stronger.”
Mastrodonato followed that up by stating that “manager John Farrell hinted that there might be a competition for that fifth and final spot in the rotation, originally expected to be held by [Joe] Kelly.”
Having another lefty starter besides ace David Price would be a nice change of pace for the Red Sox against lefty-filled batting lineups. The six-foot-six, 220-pound frame of Owens would look imposing, especially if he continues to grow into his frame. Randy Johnson-esque? Way too early for any proper comparisons, but his velocity may be the final judge in the years to come.
According to FanGraphs.com, Owens threw a fastball at an average of 89 mph, which was not as fast as him or the Red Sox wanted and also had a hard time finding the strikezone. Mastrodonato mentioned, “When he made his major league debut in August, he threw one pitch at 94 mph. But his arm and shoulder tired by late season. In his final five starts, he didn’t throw a pitch higher than 91 mph.” However, “the Red Sox have sent Owens through the standard physical tests and the southpaw said he scored much better on his shoulder strength test than he did a year ago.”
If Owens can get his fastball a road map to the strikezone more consistently and keep its speed around the mid 90s, he then becomes a real threat to Joe Kelly‘s chances.
Yet, Kelly already proved that he can overcome adversity. After the trade and the horrendous start to 2015, Kelly found a way to go 8-0 to in the later part of the season. He had no trouble with his velocity, as it was clocked at an average of just under 96 mph. Kelly’s issues came from trying too hard to strike everyone out, leaving pitches high in the strikezone to hit. When Kelly kept the ball down, he induced more groundballs and got out of innings much faster.
Before Kelly injured his pitching shoulder and finished on the bench for the rest of the year, his ERA was 4.82 and Owens’ was 4.57. The difference is that in the month of August Kelly posted a 2.68 ERA and won six starts in a row. In the same span, Owens posted a record of 2-1 with a 4.03 ERA in five starts.
Since the MRI on Kelly’s right shoulder showed no structural damage, his chances of being 100 percent for spring training are very high, which is good news for the Red Sox but possibly not so great for Owens’ chances of cracking the squad. At least for the starting rotation.
Likely, if there are health problems or performance issues, Owens would be kept up with the big club near the end of April. The Red Sox would want him to get as many starts as possible, to keep his evolution progressing, so if he doesn’t make the starting rotation in Boston then Owens would be making starts for Triple-A Pawtucket until a phone call brings him back to Fenway Park.
Kelly will likely get the benefit of the doubt that his perfect dog days of summer were not a fluke and that he should be the fifth starter. However, Owens will not be far away if it turns out that Kelly’s hot streak was just a hot flash in the MLB pan. If Owens can keep his fastball from cooling off, in velocity and location, being a 23-year-old and potentially being a very imposing left-handed presence on the mound would be much more attractive than a 27-year-old righty at average height performing below expectations.
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There’s a lot of ifs there, but Owens should think that, even if it doesn’t work out for him being the fifth starter in April, he’s verging on the cusp of his MLB dream and that he will fulfill it when he’s put the work in and the time is right.