In his first three outings, a relative lack of run support kept Henry Owens from recording his first Carolina League win. On Tuesday, he felt like he needed to put the team on his back, a night after a tough 11-inning loss to Wilmington. He did just that, but the offense gave him a huge hand.
The Red Sox's No. 5 prospect struck out six and allowed three hits and a walk over six shutout innings in Salem's 8-1 win over Wilmington. Fellow prospects Garin Cecchini (No. 8) homered and drove in three runs and Keury De La Cruz (No. 15) launched a grand slam to power the Red Sox offense.
"It feels good to get that first win, but it feels even better after a loss like we had in the tough game last night," said Owens, who utilized a three-pitch mix of a fastball, curveball and changeup in the strong outing. "You know, you want to keep the same approach and the same demeanor you have every start, but you want to get everything back on track, too. We had just swept Lynchburg [before Monday], so I wanted to get that ball rolling again."
All three hits allowed by the 20-year-old southpaw were singles. Owens' toughest inning came in the second when he walked Lane Adams and allowed a one-out base hit to Daniel Mateo. He retired Tim Ferguson on a fielder's choice and got Kenny Swab to fly to left to end the threat.
Owens didn't allow more than one baserunner to reach in an inning the rest of the way. He reached six innings for the third time in his professional career after hitting the mark twice last year at Class A Greenville.
Through four starts, the California native is 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 22 strikeouts in 21 innings. As nice as those statistics look, Owens stressed the most important ones are those he can directly control. He walked batters at a rate of 4.2 per nine innings in 2012 -- a number that needed to come down if he was going to find success at higher levels. With Salem, he's managed to keep it down to 2.6, allowing him to have such a great four-outing stretch.
Then again, he thinks that start could have been even better.
"Last year was all about getting my feet wet, but I knew I needed to do a better job of limiting the walks," said MLB.com's No. 92 overall prospect, who went 12-5 with a 4.87 ERA and 130 strikeouts for the Drive a season ago. "Even this year, of the four runs I've allowed, two each came on two separate starts and they all came with two outs and after a walk. So I feel like I could have allowed zero runs at this point. But still, I'm improving with that, and everything feels good."
His teammates certainly have taken notice.
"He's unbelievable," Cecchini said. "Every time he takes the mound, he's been fun to play behind. He's such a great competitor. It's great to watch him mowing through guys and you know he's going to keep you in the game."
The third baseman has joined Owens as one of the Sox off to solid starts. Cecchini's two-run homer off Wilmington starter Aaron Brooks in the first inning was his second of the season. He hit four in 118 games for Greenville last season and didn't get his second until May 22. Following Tuesday's win, he owns a .328/.414/.525 slash line with a triple, four doubles, eight RBIs and seven stolen bases in 16 games.
"I'm honestly not trying to hit home runs," said the Louisiana native, who turned 22 on Saturday. "I'm still trying to get line drives, hits with backspin to left-center or right-center, just trying to use the whole field. But it's been a tribute to my offseason and the program the Red Sox put me through. I'm feeling really good out there, but it's still April. You try your best not to get the hopes up that you're going to hit a bunch of homers now or anything like that."
Cecchini and De La Cruz, whose grand slam was his first roundtripper of the season, weren't the only Red Sox to contribute offensively Tuesday. Eight of the nine players in the starting lineup picked up at least one hit, with the lone exception being Brandon Jacobs, who walked three times and scored a run.
Owens appreciated the help his teammates provided, adding that he had a part to play as well.
"It's really important when they get off to a big start," he said, "but it makes it even more important for me to have quick innings and let them get back up and get as much time as they can at bat. It was a real solid team win."