TRENTON, N.J. — Back in August of last year, Henry Owens’ first outing in Trenton lasted just three innings. He threw 77 pitches, issued seven walks and told reporters after the game that he “stunk.”
That was then, this is now and Owens, the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization, remains all but unhittable.
Owens pitched 62/3 shutout innings Wednesday night, striking out nine to lead the Portland Sea Dogs to a 9-2 victory against the Trenton Thunder.
The start followed Owens’ no-hitter in a six-inning, rain-shortened season opener at Reading.
“The last time I threw here, I think I threw 12 straight balls,” Owens said, “so this was better. I felt good, I felt like I had command of all three pitches and I could throw them in any count.”
Relying heavily on a curveball and change-up that generated confused looks and ugly swings, Owens didn’t issue a walk and didn’t allow his first hit of the season until a clean leadoff single by Gary Sanchez in the second inning. Shortly thereafter, he escaped his only real jam.
After Tyler Austin grounded into a fielder’s choice, Rob Refsnyder doubled to center to put runners on second and third with one out.
But Owens recovered to strike out Zach Wilson and induce a weak groundout to third by Yeral Sanchez.
“(Owens) has competed really well out there in his two outings,” said Portland Manager Billy McMillon. “Guys are in Double-A for a reason, and there’s still a lot of development there and maturing. Suffice it to say, I think he has a lot of upside. You could close your eyes and see him pitching at higher levels, but he’ll get there when he gets there. If he keeps having outings like this, he’ll probably open up some more dialogue about what’s going to happen a month from now.”
Owens received plenty of support. With the bases loaded, Thunder starting pitcher Bryan Mitchell’s wild pitch allowed Travis Shaw to score in the first inning. Shaw’s groundout two innings later made it 2-0, and the Sea Dogs tacked on two in the fifth inning to knock Mitchell out of the game.
Ultimately Portland blew the game open late, sending 11 batters to the plate in the seventh and scoring five runs against relievers Taylor Garrison and Charley Short. Every Portland batter reached and only Blake Swihart, who walked, was without a hit.
Gary Sanchez’s two-out, two-run double in the eighth off reliever Matty Ott ended Portland’s shutout bid.
After six games, Portland has its home opener at 6 p.m. Thursday against the New Britain Rock Cats.