One of the qualities that separates most Major League pitchers from their Minor League counterparts is consistent command. No matter what kind of stuff a guy has, if he can't find the strike zone, the suggested course of action is inevitably more "seasoning" in the Minors.
In that sense, Altoona's Rudy Owens has a leg -- or arm -- up on his opponents. A big reason the 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-hander was considered the ninth-best prospect in the Pirates organization by Baseball America entering the season was his phenomenal command.
In 21 starts this year, Owens is 9-6 with a 2.85 ERA, striking out 103 batters and walking just 20 in 123 innings.
Owens was drafted out of Arizona's Chandler-Gilbert Community College in the 28th round in 2006 as a draft-and-follow. But it wasn't until a breakout season at two levels last year that Owens really began to take off.
"I was immature and hard-headed when I was younger," Owens said. "When I went to State College in the [Class A Short-Season] New York-Penn League in 2008, a new staff had come in, and I refused to listen to what they wanted me to change. It took me a while to see what they wanted was working if I committed to it."
With a new attitude and level of commitment in 2009, Owens went 10-1 with a 1.70 ERA with the South Atlantic League's West Virginia Power, followed by a 1-1 record with a 3.86 ERA as a late call-up to Lynchburg in the Class A Advanced Carolina League. In 124 innings at both levels, Owens struck out 113 batters while issuing just 17 walks.
"Last year really was a breakout year for me," Owens, 22, said. "But I've always been the type of guy who stays around the zone and just doesn't walk many guys."
This season, Owens made the transition to Double-A. Even though he wasn't walking many batters, the results weren't always translating into wins.
"When I got to Altoona, I got caught in the trap of trying to do too much," Owens admitted. "I was trying to place the ball and not trusting myself. It's just one of those things people can tell you, but you just have to figure it out on your own."
Owens said he's begun that process recently, and the results are beginning to show.
Last Wednesday against visiting Akron, Owens allowed one run over six innings while striking out four, limiting the Aeros to one hit (a solo homer in the first inning). He retired the last 17 men he faced to snap a personal three-game losing streak, helping the Curve win their fourth consecutive game, 5-1.
Owens did not walk a batter while lowering his ERA to 2.85. He's now given up just three earned runs for a 1.42 ERA over his last three starts spanning 19 innings.
Weekly honors: Portland 1B Anthony Rizzo was honored as Eastern League Player of the Week for the period ending Aug. 8. The 21-year-old batted .444 (12-for-27) with four doubles, three homers, 12 RBIs, seven runs scored and a .926 slugging percentage over six games. Since the All-Star break, Rizzo is batting .327 with 11 doubles, five homers and 24 RBIs in 23 games. He was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the sixth round of the 2007 Draft out of Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. ... Erie RHP Brooks Brown was named Pitcher of the Week over the same span. In one start for the SeaWolves last week, the 25-year-old native of Statesboro, Ga., limited Reading to six hits while pitching a complete-game shutout in Erie's 3-0 victory over the R-Phils. Rizzo struck out four and walked one while improving his record to 10-7 and lowering his ERA to 3.85. He currently leads the league in both complete games (four) and shutouts (two) and is tied for third in wins (10) and WHIP (1.16). He was acquired by the Detroit Tigers in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks as compensation for retaining Rule 5 selection James Skelton in April 2009. Brown was originally selected by the Diamondbacks in the supplemental first round of the 2006 Draft. ... Recently promoted Akron OF Matt McBride claimed the league's Player of the Month award for July. McBride, who was promoted to Triple-A Columbus on July 29, led the circuit in most offensive categories. He batted .364 (32-for-88) during the month of July, leading Akron to an 18-9 record and led the league in home runs (11), RBIs (29), slugging percentage (.852), OPS (1.271) and total bases (75).
Harrisburg hot: Since starting July at 0-5, the Senators are 22-8 over their last 30 games. Offensively, they are averaging 5.7 runs per game and batting .277, while on the mound they have allowed three or fewer earned runs in 20 of 29 games. The Sens have scored eight or more runs nine times since July 8. Harrisburg continues to dominate with its pitching, as it is first in ERA (3.61) and fewest walks allowed (311), fourth in fewest home runs allowed (77), fourth in saves (34), second in shutouts (10) and third in strikeouts (857). At 60-54, Harrisburg is third in the Western Division, 6 1/2 games behind first-place Altoona (66-47).
Odds and ends: Bowie matched a season low with just two hits in a 2-0 loss to New Hampshire on Saturday and was shut out for a league-leading 10th time this season. Fisher Cats pitchers Kyle Drabek, Trystan Magnuson and Alan Farina combined for 12 strikeouts to record New Hampshire's eighth shutout of the season, witnessed by a season-high crowd of 7,882 at Merchantsauto.com Stadium. ... On Friday, Akron committed its 10th error in the past 11 games and ranks ninth in the league with 112 this season. Still, the team is second in the league with a .271 batting average and fifth with a 3.95 ERA, joining division-leader Altoona as the only teams to rank in the top five in both this season. ... Harrisburg had its eight-game winning streak halted Saturday by Altoona. The Curve broke open a close game with 10 runs in the ninth inning, marking their second 10-run ninth against the Sens this season. ... Richmond scored a franchise-record 16 runs as the Flying Squirrels smoked the Portland Sea Dogs, 16-8, on Sunday in front of 6,804 at Hadlock Field. Richmond exploded for 18 hits, including eight doubles and two home runs.