Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was in town Tuesday and took in Henry Owens' start. Gracious host that he is, Owens treated Cherington to quite the show.
Boston's No. 5 prospect had his best outing of the season, scattering three hits over a career-high seven innings in Class A Advanced Salem's 7-0 win over Winston-Salem.
The outing is the latest in an impressive stretch for MLB.com's No. 83 prospect, who is 6-2 with a 2.74 ERA for the season. In his past five starts, he's logged 27 1/3 innings and racked up a 0.99 ERA. He struck out six and walked one Tuesday, and he has a 31-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his past five outings.
The 20-year-old has an 86-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 72 1/3 innings for the season and ranks third in the Carolina League in both ERA and strikeouts. The 2011 supplemental first-round pick is breaking out with Salem after pitching to mixed results and a 4.87 ERA last year with Class A Greenville.
Owens credits the bulk of his improvements to adjustments made in Spring Training this year that he has stuck with through the summer. First, the left-hander adjusted his grip on his fastball.
"I moved my fingers up on the seams," he said. "I was finding the strike zone that way."
Second, Owens adjusted his mechanics to improve his rhythm and command.
"I'm just slowing everything down a little," he said. "Last year, I tended to speed things up and drift to home plate, and then I'd speed my arm up and it'd lag behind. I'm just slowing everything down."
The adjustments have strengthened the hurler's fastball command, and Owens said he thinks that's the chief driver of his success. Owens had one hiccup in that regard recently, when he allowed five walks in five shutout innings against Winston-Salem on June 5. He still managed to hold the Dash to one hit that day.
Tuesday was Owens' third outing against Winston-Salem this season. He struck out 10 and allowed two earned runs on two hits in six innings on May 4. Despite his successes, he said Winston-Salem provides a unique challenge in the Carolina League because it is so veteran-heavy with leaders such as Chris Curley, Kevan Smith and Jeremy Farrell.
"That whole team, they're pretty experienced," he said. "They all take really hard hacks early and protect with two strikes. I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, and they have a good idea of what they're doing. We've been going back and forth all year."
The Red Sox built Owens the 7-0 lead over the first three innings. Meanwhile, the left-hander retired the side in order in the second and third, and then evaded a first-and-second, one-out jam in the fourth by retiring top White Sox prospect Courtney Hawkins with a flyout and Rangel Ravelo with a swinging strikeout.
Owens hit Joey DeMichele to start the sixth and allowed a leadoff double to Hawkins to begin the seventh, but worked through both innings without further damage to complete the gem.
Coming through with the strong effort with Cherington in attendance? That just made it all the sweeter for Owens.
"You have to take it like any other start," Owens said. "At the same time, you want to show a little something. Luckily today, I was able to show a good start."