FORT MYERS, Fla. – He is the last unsettled piece of the Fab Five from the 2005 draft.

Michael Bowden is hoping to finally take a major league leap.

Bowden, 25, lowered his ERA to 2.00 after pitching a scoreless ninth inning Thursday in a 3-2 loss to Toronto. It was a grinding effort for Bowden, who needed 26 pitches against three batters.

But nothing has been easy for the right-hander who pitched at Hadlock Field in 2007-08.

Bowden was the fifth player chosen by the Red Sox in the 2005 draft, when they had five picks among the top 47.

Every arriving player was touted as a future major leaguer — outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, infielder Jed Lowrie, and pitchers Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz and Bowden.

Ellsbury and Buchholz are mainstays on the Red Sox. Hansen and Lowrie reached the majors before being traded. Hansen has since retired. Lowrie was going to be the Astros’ starting shortstop until he sprained his thumb Wednesday.

Bowden was the only one of the five to be drafted out of high school. He made his major league debut in 2008 with one start, an 8-2 victory over the White Sox. He has made only one other start for Boston, along with 35 relief appearances over the past three seasons.

He converted to the bullpen full time midway through 2010.

“A far as being in the bullpen, I feel 100 percent comfortable now,” Bowden said. “I don’t feel like there is too much uncertainty. I know what I’m up against.”

What Bowden is up against now is time. He is out of minor league options. The Red Sox either keep him on the major league roster or designate him for assignment, a process in which Bowden can be claimed by another team, or can return with a minor league contract.

“Mike hasn’t pitched on a real regular rotation, but he’s thrown strikes,” said Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine. “He’s trying to develop his split-finger fastball, which I think is coming.

“He hasn’t missed as many bats yet as he’d like to.”

On Thursday, Bowden’s 26 pitches included 19 strikes. But not one was a swing-and-miss. There were 13 foul balls, three called strikes and three balls put in play.

A polished split-finger fastball would get swings and misses. Bowden hopes he has time in the majors to apply the polish.

“I don’t know what role I’ll be in,” he said, “but I’ll feel comfortable with whatever they’re going to do with me.”

 

BOSTON LOST Thursday’s game on that popular Little League play, the delayed steal of home. Blue Jays speedster Anthony Gose walked in the eighth inning, and stole second and third base.

With two outs, Gose bolted home after catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw the ball back to pitcher Justin Thomas at the mound. Thomas had trouble getting the ball out of his glove and his throw home was late.

But the manager said the blame goes to the catcher.

“Fast runner,” Valentine said. “Salty checked him four times. The fifth time he didn’t check him.”

 

ALSO IN THE game, David Ortiz homered over the left-field wall in the sixth. Former Sea Dogs and Red Sox right-hander Robert Coello got the save for Toronto, striking out three in the ninth, along with yielding a Saltalamacchia double. The top five in the lineup had a familiar look: Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz.

 

CARL CRAWFORD is still not taking batting practice and will need at least 50 at-bats before he is ready to join the major league club, according to Valentine. He said that could translate into 15 games on a rehab assignment.

But there is no timetable when that rehab would begin.

WHEN IT WAS announced that “Bogaerts was traded” in the JetBlue Park press box, heads turned.

Xander Bogaerts, 19, is a shortstop and one of the most touted prospects in the Red Sox system.

But he was not traded. His twin brother, first baseman Jair Bogaerts, was sent to the Cubs as the player to be named in the Theo Epstein compensation deal.

Xander Bogaerts is expected to break camp with advanced Class A Salem, meaning there is an outside chance he sees Portland this season.

 

MAX ST. PIERRE, a minor league free-agent catcher, was released Thursday. The move may mean that Ryan Lavarnway returns to the minor leagues when the season begins.

St. Pierre, 31, came from the Tigers’ organization. If he stayed with the Red Sox, he might have been in Triple-A with Luis Exposito.

Lavarnway figured to eventually go back to Triple-A, but if Pawtucket already had two catchers, there would be no hurry to cut him from the majors.

Now Pawtucket’s catching tandem will likely be Exposito and Lavarnway.

 

THE SEA DOGS’ CAMP featured 16 position players Thursday, including some intriguing candidates for the Double-A team.

Shortstop Derrik Gibson, 22, a second-round draft pick in 2008, played last year in Salem and could be promoted. Outfielder Peter Hissey, a fourth-round draft pick in 2008, has played the last two years in Salem even though he is only 22. And infielder Heike Meneses, 20, a rising prospect, was taking grounders at second base.

Minor league camps can be fluid, with players bouncing around. Rosters could be set as early as today.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at [email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases