had high expectations entering his first professional season, but the left-handed pitcher also was realistic. A supplemental first-round pick from the 2011 Draft, he had yet to make his debut in an official game and reported to Spring Training realizing he most likely would spend the year at the short-season level.
That scenario changed during the waning days of Spring Training in Fort Myers. Just prior to the time when the four full-season clubs would head north, Owens saw his name listed on the big board.
"I was surprised," Owens said. "In Spring Training they told me to work hard and everything would fall into place. When I saw my name was on the Greenville roster, that was pretty cool. I was optimistic, and now I'm just trying to roll with it."
That decision appeared to be a bit hasty if his first three appearances are used to gauge his effectiveness. Owens debuted with three innings of relief against Lakewood and allowed five earned runs in three innings. He moved into the rotation for his next outing and surrendered four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings at West Virginia before giving up five earned runs in four innings at Lexington in his second start.
Despite the difficulties, Owens learned from his mistakes. He rebounded from his struggles during the first half of April and allowed a combined four earned runs and 17 hits over his next five starts, a span covering 23 2/3 innings. As a result, the southpaw owned a 4-1 record with a 4.72 ERA before allowing six runs in a four-inning start Wednesday. He's now at 4-2 with a 5.63 ERA and has 56 strikeouts in 38 1/3 frames to go with 24 walks.
"I've been more efficient with my pitches, and I'm pitching more rather than throwing," Owens said. "Early in the year I was probably trying to strike too many guys out and overpower guys. I don't throw 98 [mph], so I'm not going to be able to overpower batters with my fastball. I've learned that 90 at the knees is better than 93 or 94 at the waist."
Considered to be the top high school pitcher in Southern California available in last year's draft, the Huntington Beach native was the 36th overall pick and signed in mid-August, just prior to the deadline. Owens received his first taste of professional baseball during instructional league in September and October. He says that stint in Fort Myers helped him learn the routine of a starting pitcher, particularly on the second, third and fourth days after toeing the rubber.
Upon drafting him, the Red Sox liked Owens' ceiling, particularly his room to grow into his 6-foot-6, 190-pound frame. His fastball touches 94 but is more effective in the 90-92 mph range. His curveball has been a plus pitch since his high school days, while his changeup has developed into a solid offering, giving him the potential of three above-average pitches at higher levels.
"Early in the year my fastball was up in the zone," Owens said. "Lately I've been able to keep it at the knees more consistently. I've also been utilizing my changeup, which I really couldn't use in high school because I was only speeding up their bats with the pitch. Most of my strikeouts have been off the changeup this year. I'm getting guys out with the curveball and fastball, but my changeup has been as effective as any of my pitches."
Owens admits the bus rides and the daily grind of playing in the Minors have been about what he expected but says the facilities, particularly at his home ballpark of Fluor Field in Greenville, are better than advertised. Having attained his comfort level, the task at hand now centers around becoming more consistent every time he takes the mound.
"It's just a matter of repeating what works," Owens said. "I've gotten comfortable with my pregame routine as well as my post-game routine in preparation for my next start. I know I could be in Florida in extended [spring training], so I'm trying to take advantage of the opportunity I've been given and have fun doing it."
Rome on a roll? Could the 2012 season be turning around for the Rome Braves, owners of the league's worst record at 11-33? That may be the case if the team's doubleheader sweep of Augusta on May 22 proves to be a harbinger. As a result of the 3-1 and 6-2 triumphs, the R-Braves won their first home series of the year and won two consecutive games at State Mutual Stadium for the first time in 2012.
Jackson turnaround: Hickory pitcher Luke Jackson entered Monday's doubleheader having allowed 22 runs in his last four starts, a span of 15 2/3 innings. After walking the leadoff batter May 21, he retired the next seven Kannapolis batters and limited the Intimidators to one hit -- a solo home run to Mark Haddow with two outs in the sixth. He wound up going 6 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts and three walks to improve to 3-4 on the season.
Hoppers like home: Greensboro had its 16-game home winning streak snapped May 19 when a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth fell one run short in Lakewood's 4-3 victory. The Grasshoppers had not lost a game at NewBridge Bank Park since April 10.