PORTLAND – Third baseman Garin Cecchini walked to the mound to mess with Henry Owens. Cecchini picked up the rosin bag.
“I knew he liked touching the rosin bag right before (he begins a game), so I took it and played with it,” said Cecchini, Owens’ teammate for two seasons. “Just to have a little joke.”
It was Cecchini’s way to keep Owens loose, as if that was needed.
Owens, 21, could not have been more calm Friday night, making only his second Double-A start and his first at Hadlock Field. Owens gave a taste of what the Red Sox already know — they have themselves quite a pitching prospect.
“He shows a maturity level beyond his age. You have to remind yourself he’s only 21,” Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper said. “He’s a young man with a very promising career.”
Portland has had left-handed prospects from Boston before. Felix Doubront (2009-10) comes to mind, as well as Jon Lester, the Eastern League pitcher of the year in 2005. Both were also 21 when they joined the Sea Dogs.
We may be hinting of heresy here, but the 6-foot-7 Owens could be the best yet.
“He’s a pretty good looking pitcher,” said Bowie Baysox catcher Luis Martinez, who has spent time with the Rangers and Padres in the majors.
Owens struck out Martinez twice Friday night.
“He was great. Has a great curveball. Kept it down in the zone a lot,” Martinez said. “We got a couple of runs off him, but the last time he did real well.”
Bowie is the best hitting team in the Eastern League, and Owens has faced the Baysox twice, shutting them out over six innings in Bowie, then allowing two runs over four innings Friday, still striking out eight.
“It was a lot of fun but a little frustrating going only four innings,” Owens said. “But you’ve got to give them credit. They fouled off a lot of balls.”
The Baysox mirrored what the Red Sox like to do, see a lot of pitches and inflate the pitcher’s pitch count. Owens used 90 pitches.
Still, Owens kept attacking with an unpredictable mix of fastballs, curves and change-ups.
“He didn’t get frustrated after all the foul balls,” Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles said. “He maintains his mound presence throughout and he doesn’t fear contact. He executes his pitches at any point in the count. He definitely has some pitches to work with.”
While the curveball got six of the strikeouts, the change-up may be Owens’ best pitch. He commands a fastball in the low 90s — not the same heat of a Lester or Doubront — and that sets up the secondary pitches.
“The feel for his change-up at his age is advanced. It’s that simple,” Kipper said. “He gets a number of swings and misses on his change-up (eight on Friday).
“And what makes his curveball effective is that he maintains the 90-92 mph arm speed and throws it 70 to 72 mph. That’s just incredible separation. That’s why you see some of the swings you see off his curveball.”
Kipper called them “silly swings” as Owens accumulates the misses. He leads the Red Sox organization with 142 strikeouts (in 1142/3 innings), and has the best ERA (2.83) among all full-season Red Sox minor league pitchers.
“I wouldn’t want to hit against him,” Cecchini said. “His fastball gets on you quick. He throws the curveball for strikes and he has a good change-up.”
And Owens is getting better, even as he pitches against stronger competition. With Class A Salem, Owens walked 53 batters in 1042/3 innings. He’s walked three in two Double-A starts.
Even when Owens gave up four hits and two runs in the third inning Friday, he also struck out the side, and did the same in the fourth.
“Very poised and very polished at such a young age,” Boles said.
Owens is 205 pounds and may fill out more, possibly putting more oomph into his fastball.
The Red Sox projected big things for Owens, a native of Huntington Beach in Southern California when they made him part of their impressive draft in 2011 — pitcher Matt Barnes (19th overall), catcher Blake Swihart (26th), Owens (36th), and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (40th).
Bradley reached Portland last year and is bouncing between Triple-A and the majors. Swihart is expected in Portland by the end of the season or the start of 2014. Barnes has been here all season.
And now Owens has arrived, in Double-A and New England. He’s getting closer to Boston.
That sounds good to Owens.
“My goals and aspirations are to play there,” Owens said. “This is just another step in the road. Got to master this level and keep moving on.”
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: