Boston Red Sox young starter Henry Owens not only pitches the rubber match against the Chicago White Sox, he also throws for the optics of his future career.
At U.S. Cellular Field, Owens will feel the normal pressure of being an opposing pitcher against the home crowd, he will tighten his focus against the team with the most wins thus far in the American League, and he will try to overcome all of that while trying to give his own career some direction.
Owens has posted a 0-0 record with a 4.82 ERA in his first two starts this season. His first appearance was a seemingly nervous one, as he only lasted 3.1 innings before allowing three earned runs on five hits, including a home run, four walks, and four strikeouts against the Houston Astros. He could not get much consistency, while he also seemed agitated on the mound. In his next start, Owens threw for six innings, allowing two runs on six hits, including another home run; three walks, including a hit-batsman; and three strikeouts against the New York Yankees.
While MLB.com reports that “White Sox right-hander Erik Johnson will make his season debut” tonight against the Red Sox, the lefty Owens will have his hands full with trying to handle his own growing pains. Fortunately, the dominance that the White Sox have shown has been mostly with their starting pitching, as their bats have hit to score 100 RBIs, 108 runs in total to rank just 18th in both major leagues. Johnson will have to deal with the Red Sox being ranked fourth in that category, with 140 runs scored.
Judging by those figures, the Red Sox look to have the edge on paper, especially by being served fresh meat by the White Sox starting a pitcher who has only 16 games of MLB experience under his belt; however, Owens is standing on the precipice of what will define his career, thus far.
In a recent BoSox Injection interview with Aaron Boone, the ESPN baseball analyst said that “the deal with Owens is that it all comes down to the command of his fastball.” That command didn’t help Owens “avoid the home-run ball”, but it did help him to bean a Yankee slugger. Owens’ reputation was built on his own debut season with the Red Sox last year, when he posted a 4-4 record and a 4.57 ERA in 11 starts. He allowed 32 runs, seven homers, 62 hits, and hit three batters in 63 innings of work. His opposing batting average was .255, striking out 50 while walking 24. His current total of seven walks to seven strikeouts, while allowing 11 hits in 9.1 innings, is continuing the trend of inconsistency.
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The problem with Owens could be not only missing locations but also where the pitches end up. According toBrooksBaseball.net
, the lefty is getting absolutely drilled letter-high, in or out of the strikezone. Pitches gravitating to the left side of the plate, whether for balls or strikes, are getting pummeled between a .250-.539 rate of opposing batting averages, with the exception of the bottom left corner scoring a .118 average. When he misses, Owens is missing high and fat, making the baseball look more like a beach ball to the hitters.
When a young pitcher, like Owens, uses his fastball over 57% of the time but, according to FanGraphs.com, it’s only moving at 89 mph, missing locations up in the opposing batter’s wheelhouse becomes a nightmare really quickly.
The time is at hand for Owens to step up his game. He has shown that he can hang with the best of the MLB lineups, but that’s not what Red Sox Nation wants to see. The team and its fans need to see the young pitcher take command of his fastball and dominate for six innings, before passing the ball over to the bullpen to finish the job. With Eduardo Rodriguez, another young and talented Red Sox pitcher, working to recover fast and make his way back to the big club, Owens doesn’t have much time to prove that he belongs in the starting rotation. In fact, this could be the game that seals his future, at least in the short term.