PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona had a favorite line when asked about a prospect who was doing well.
“Let’s not put the kid in the Hall of Fame just yet,” Francona would say.
On Monday, Red Sox pitching prospect Henry Owens made his Triple-A debut, and while he may not be ready for Cooperstown, there’s a lot to like about the 22-year-old left-hander.
Owens worked 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and three walks with nine strikeouts. He tossed 100 pitches (70 strikes) and hit a batter in helping the PawSox to a 5-0 win over the Columbus Clippers at McCoy Stadium.
He took a no-hitter into the sixth, retiring 16 of the first 19 batters he faced before allowing an infield single. His fastball topped out at 94, but his off-speed pitches were nasty and he routinely and consistently dropped in his curveball and changeup at 69 and 70 mph.
“He definitely has the pitch mix. A fastball command with some late life,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles said. “There’s some deception there. It looks like it’s a sneaky fastball. The breaking ball was quality. The hand speed on the changeup was above average and there’s a lot to be excited about. It was pretty impressive.
“He was unpredictable the whole time. They never really fell into a groove and that’s a credit to him and [catcher Blake] Swihart behind the plate. The energy, tempo and pace to the game was a plus and he kept our defense involved. Owens definitely showed weapons tonight.”
Prior to his promotion to Pawtucket, Owens was 14-4 with a 2.60 ERA in 20 starts. He recorded 126 strikeouts in 121 innings for Double-A Portland this season.
“We saw it last year also,” Boles said. “Now he physically looks like he’s getting bigger and stronger. It looks like the velocity is up a little bit, but the repeatability of the delivery, I thought he was in sync with good rhythm and was pretty impressive. We’ve always been very high on his ability. It showed last year in Portland, but to see him now he’s definitely improved.”
Red Sox assistant general manager Mike Hazen and director of player development Ben Crockett were in attendance for Owens’ outing.
Owens had command of all his pitches, especially his curveball. While his changeup is above average, he’s spent a lot of time this season working on his curve, and it was on display Monday night.
“I’ve been working on it the whole year, and not just on the mound. I’ve been working on it in bullpens and it’s come a long way,” Owens said.
His batterymate Swihart, who also made his Triple-A debut Monday night, has been working with Owens the past few seasons. Swihart also has seen improvement in the curveball.
“That’s one thing he was telling me. He said, ‘People are saying I don’t have a curveball.’ So he was like, ‘Hey, let’s go show them that I have a curveball.’ So there it is,” Swihart said.
Owens recorded his ninth strikeout of the game for the first out in the top of the sixth. He then hit Columbus’ James Ramsey, before Francisco Lindor snapped Owens’ no-hit bid with an infield single in the hole between shortstop and third. PawSox shortstop Deven Marrero made a diving stop, but didn’t have enough time to make the throw.
“Yeah, Deven’s got to make that play. Nah, I’m just kidding,” Owens said. “That was a good try. Me and Lindor have had some battles, so I tip my cap because he put a good swing on a good pitch.”
Besides his mound presence and poise, Owens has a larger-than-life personality. Earlier in the day, he was having fun in the clubhouse and didn’t show any nerves about his first Triple-A start.
“He’s a big-time competitor. He’s not afraid of anybody,” Swihart said. “He comes in the dugout, he’s a goofball, has a good time, but once he steps on the mound he’s having fun again competing.”
Even Owens describes himself as being “loose in the clubhouse, competitor on the mound.”
Boles was Owens’ manager last season at Portland, so there were no surprises when he entered the clubhouse or took the mound.
“He’s a beauty,” Boles said with a laugh. “He’s very poised and guys love being around him. He lights up the clubhouse, there’s no doubt about it. But the game makeup is a plus. The way he attacks the zone, there’s no fear of contact and he’s not afraid to throw any pitch at any time.”
As Boles explained, Owens was able to throw some left-on-left changeups and wasn’t afraid to throw his changeup in 3-2 counts.
“Again, he was very unpredictable. But that mound presence and poise and game makeup is a plus for him,” Boles said.
When he was removed with two outs and two on in the top of the seventh, Owens received a standing ovation and politely tipped his cap to the fans.
“It was awesome. I got chills,” he said. “It was cool. It was a cool night in McCoy.”
There’s a lot to like about Henry Owens.