Henry Owens’ struggles continue
SARASOTA, Fla. — It still hasn’t happened for Henry Owens.
He has yet to take that daunting next step.
As Adam Jones hammered one of his pitches for a long home run in the first inning yesterday and the rest of the Orioles lineup knocked him around the park for three more runs, that became clear.
“One of the primary goals with Henry is better overall command,” manager John Farrell said. “And that’s still in development.”
Clay Buchholz made his spring training debut for the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday. He threw two shutout innings then told reporters he only was throwing at 80 percent.
The Red Sox haven’t gotten anything remotely as good from the guys they hope will replace Buchholz as the next man up in a starting rotation that could begin the season with as many as two regulars on the disabled list, depending on the progress of Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz.
Owens, Brian Johnson and Roenis Elias — the three pitchers Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski always mentions as a reason he believes the team is flush with rotation depth — have yet to match Buchholz’ ability to throw a scoreless spring outing.
Kyle Kendrick, a veteran signed as a depth option who last pitched to a 6.32 ERA with the Rockies in 2015, has given up three runs in five innings. Hector Velazquez could emerge as the next-best guy after the Sox signed him out of Mexico for $30,000.
“As you get into these starts and as we have (a certain amount of) innings to provide depth to pitchers (and) try to get a sense of where we are with that group, there’s improvement needed,” Farrell said after the Sox’ 12-5 loss to the Orioles.
Farrell said it’s past the point of spring when you can just point to building arm strength as an excuse.
“We’re always building arm strength, but you’d like to see some pitch sequencing for finishing off hitters to take hold,” he said. “A number of times today, we were in good pitchers’ counts, and a number of pitches found the middle of the plate.”
Owens was throwing at much more than 80 percent yesterday.
He hit 94 mph on the radar gun, a number he’s hit only once before in 16 major league games. He typically sits around 90.
“Compliments on his work in the offseason, adding strength, adding core strength to allow the stuff to play up a little bit,” Farrell said. “Still, in the end, it is about command.”
Owens has shown little.
“I felt good with my body, my arm, my mental game,” the left-hander said after allowing four runs and walking three in two innings. “But the results weren’t there in the first two outings I’ve had now. But I think there are there some positives. I look forward to keep working and trying to get everything to come together all at once.”
What can the Red Sox do to help him?
“His changeup is his best secondary pitch, so I’d like to see him pitch with a little bit better tempo,” Farrell said. “That’s a fine balance, pitching out of control or prioritizing command. I just feel like with a fastball-changeup as a primary combination, the more tempo you can dictate from the mound, it has a greater effect on the hitter.”
With Owens on the mound yesterday, the first two innings lasted a whopping 50 minutes.
Owens said he’s trying to increase his tempo, but it’s not an instant solution.
“With more weight on my frame and not using my legs more, it’s actually helped with my velocity, and I feel like my stuff has been crisper,” he said. “But it’s going to take some more repetitions to get the repeatability down.”
The walks are killing him. He walked 5.3 batters per nine innings in the minors last year yet still maintained a respectable 3.53 ERA. In five major league starts, he walked 20 in 22 innings with a 6.95 ERA.
The Red Sox aren’t ready to move on from Owens, once considered a top prospect in the farm system. But he turns 25 in July and hasn’t shown enough progress to settle the stomachs of leery fans.
“I’m here every day training and trying to make the team,” he said. “I’m not trying to go back to Rhode Island, not trying to go to Pawtucket. I want to make the Boston club and try to help them win as many games as I possibly can.”
If not Owens, maybe it’s Johnson, Elias, Kendrick or Velazquez.
At some point, will one of them step up?