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Michael Bowden: ‘I don’t know what I’m going to be in the major leagues’

03.16.11 at 11:31 am ET

Michael Bowden is reaching back for a little extra this spring. (AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Michael Bowden is not worried about his identity crisis.

After all, the writing was on the wall all winter long. With each acquisition of a high-profile reliever, the transformed righty reliever knew he was fighting an uphill battle for a big league roster spot out of camp.

With Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Alfredo Aceves and Dennys Reyes added to the group of Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima and Tim Wakefield, Bowden certainly didn’t need general manager Theo Epstein, skipper Terry Francona or anyone else from the organization spelling out the cold hard facts.

“You’d be pretty dumb if you didn’t [figure it out],” Bowden said Wednesday morning as he prepared for another day of work at City of Palms Park. “Just by their acquisitions and what they did, I know exactly how it’s going to pan out. I’ve been around long enough so I don’t think they felt like they needed to tell me something I already knew.”

Still only 24, Bowden readily admits his sights aren’t necessarily set on making the big league roster on April 1 but rather showing the Red Sox — or any other MLB team for that matter — his value. That was evident by one scout commenting after his impressive outing in Kissimmee last week: “Don’t forget about Michael Bowden.”

But for now, the reality is there’s little, if any, room for Bowden on the 2011 Red Sox.

“As of now, it’s a very slim chance, and I know that, unless there’s injuries, but I don’t wish that upon anybody,” he said. “As of now, I’m going to go down to Triple-A and pitch as well as I can and hopefully create an opportunity for myself.”

The Red Sox thought so much of Bowden that they used a first-round pick on him in 2005. He was a starter then and he moved his way up the system, reaching Triple-A Pawtucket in 2008, when he also made his big league debut. He made 24 starts for the PawSox in 2009 and then everything changed, beginning with his role.

He began 2010 as a starter, making 16 starts for Pawtucket before the Red Sox told him last summer that his future with them likely would be in the bullpen, not the rotation. After an ERA of 9.56 in seven relief appearances in 2009, Bowden showed progress last season. He appeared in 14 games, all in relief, and posted a 4.70 ERA.

He came up to pro ball with great command of his fastball, a very good curve, a slider and devastating changeup, all of which made him ideally suited to start. This spring, he’s added a cutter to attack lefties so that he can pitch to more than one batter out of the bullpen.

For now, he’s accepted his fate and is learning to embrace relieving.

“I don’t know what I’m going to be,” Bowden said. “Right now, I’m a reliever. I was a starter most of last year. I don’t know what next year is going to bring. Right now, I’m going to worry about the task at hand, and that’s relieving. I don’t know what I’m going to be in the major leagues, but we’ll see when it gets there.”

This spring, his comfort has reached a new level, with Bowden posting his best outing yet last week in Kissimmee against the Astros. He pitched two perfect innings, striking out two and needing just 19 pitches to do so.

“It’s going real well,” Bowden said. “I feel very comfortable in the bullpen. I gained a lot of experience at the end of last year and in winter ball so I feel like I came in very prepared and I knew my role and I feel very comfortable in it.”

His Pawtucket pitching coach can sense the same thing.

“He had command of all three pitches, just a great job,” Rich Sauveur said. “That’s the best I’ve seen him in a long time. Cutter, slider, changeup. If he stays down in the zone, and with that cutter coming in on the hands of lefties, it could be a very big plus for him. But he’ll have to command it. He can’t just be throwing it just to have a cutter and then have his fastball and slider only.

“I think it’s a progress. The Boston Red Sox are obviously a high-profile team and they want to win. They’ll do anything to do that, as they showed this year. He’s got the talent to pitch in the big leagues. He does. His progression has probably been not as quick as he wanted it, but there is a progression. He comes in every spring training ready to go. Nobody works as hard as him. He works harder than anybody.”

Will that hard work translate to a roster spot? Safe to say, Sauveur agrees with Bowden’s long-shot assessment on Wednesday.

“Does he have an opportunity to make the team? I’m sure there’s some opportunity, but by the signings and the players they brought in, that opportunity got cut down a little bit,” Sauveur said. “His progression, it’s possibly still here. He could make the team. But if not, he’ll go down to Pawtucket and do what he needs to do to get to the big leagues. He’s a fighter.”

Wakefield is one of the many veteran pitchers Bowden has kept his eye on, learning as much as possible. Wakefield — from experience — has made the point that whether you’re starting or relieving, you have one basic job as a pitcher: Get outs.

“Whether you’re starting or relieving, your job is to get outs, but I also believe that coming in from the bullpen you have to have more of an aggressive mindset because the starters, they start the tone for the game,” Bowden said. “They get [hitters] in swing mode, and later in games they’re going to be swinging and you have to really execute your pitches. You just have to be aggressive and go right after the hitters.”

Bowden hasn’t been around enough to be picky about his preference. All he cares about is getting the chance to do what he’s always wanted to do. So, he’s not worried about his role, just his job.

“I’m pitching, and that’s all that matters,” he said.

Read More: 2011 Spring Training, bobby jenks, Boston Red Sox, dan wheeler
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