Red Sox minor league roundup: Henry Owens’ no-hit struggle; Allen Webster locking in; Mookie Betts nearing history
|05.15.14 at 11:26 am ET|
A brief look at the action in the Red Sox minor league system on Wednesday:
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 3-1 LOSS VS. INDIANAPOLIS (PIRATES)
— Allen Webster continued his streak of consistent outings, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing two earned runs on four hits and two walks while striking out nine, with the punchouts representing a season-high for any Pawtucket pitcher. Webster’s sinking fastball sat in the 92-94 range, and most of his 13 swinging strikes came on the change up. The righty gave up a couple hard-hit balls in the first innings, with two doubles, a walk and a single leading to a pair of earned runs in the first. But after that, the 24-year-old cruised, retiring 14 straight until walking Gregory Polanco in the sixth. Both of Webster’s walks issued were to Polanco, a top prospect for the Pirates.
While Rubby De La Rosa stole the show with his impressive string of four outings in which he gave up just 11 hits and three earned runs in 22 2/3 innings, Webster has clearly been the most consistent starter for the PawSox over the course of the season. Webster, whose control problems have plagued him in the past, has now delivered five straight starts in which he’s walked two batters or less. His nine strikeouts now gives him a ratio of eight walks to 24 strikeouts over those five starts, a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate. For context, he hasn’t been able to finish a season with a strikeout to walk ratio that high since 2009, when he pitched at the rookie league level. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in game at any point this season, and he’s allowed two runs or less in his last six starts. His 2.54 ERA in 49 2/3 innings leads all PawSox starters and ranks 12th in the International League. He’s managed to hold the opposition to just a .239 batting average, while limiting lefties to a .592 OPS.
— Garin Cecchini had just one of two Pawtucket hits on the evening, reaching base twice with an infield single and a walk. Cecchini has reached base safely in his last 21 games, batting .302/.430/.365 over the streak. However, Cecchini has put together multi-hit games just twice over the life of the streak, and just four of his 19 hits have gone for extra bases (all doubles).
— Alex Hassan drove in the only PawSox run of the contest, drawing a bases-loaded walk, his first of two walks on the afternoon. The 26-year-old is hitless in his last two games, but has drawn four walks over his last 12 plate appearances. The outfielder is batting .241/.336/.328 with 17 RBIs through 34 games this season.
— Drake Britton seems to have bounced back after allowing runs in three straight outings. The lefty pitched a scoreless eighth for the PawSox, walking one but giving up no hits. Over his last three innings, he’s faced just one batter over the minimum. Britton has compiled a 2.29 ERA over 19 2/3 innings as a late-inning reliever and has recorded four saves, but the walks are a bit of a red flag. The 24-year-old has actually walked more batters than he’s struck out, issuing 14 free passes while fanning 13 batters, which works out to less than six strikeouts per nine innings. His 6.4 walks per nine is almost double his walk rate from 2013.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 4-3 LOSS AT NEW BRITAIN (TWINS)
— First, the positive takaeaways from Henry Owens‘ start, of which there are plenty: the lefty (yet again) allowed no hits in his four innings of work, the second time this season and the fifth time in his career he’s managed to hold the opposition hitless. Eight of the 12 outs he recorded were strikeouts, while the others came in the forms of a pop-up to the catcher, a batter interference call on a stolen base attempt and two fly outs. He got 12 swinging strikes, and the batter went down swinging in six of Owens’ eight strikeouts. In the second and third innings, the only contact batters made resulted in foul balls.
That said, Owens walked five on the evening for the second outing in a row. The walks have clearly been an issue (and perhaps the only issue) for Owens lately, who has given up just one hit over his last 11 2/3 innings. He threw 87 pitches on the night with 47 going for strikes (54 percent). Owens threw first-pitch balls to 14 of the 17 hitters he faced.
“It was inconsistent,” Portland pitching coach Bob Kipper told Ashley Marshall of MiLB.com. “He clearly didn’t have his best stuff, but he beat hitters in the strike zone, evidenced by his eight strikeouts and the no hits he [allowed] and the no runs he [allowed]. The numbers speak for themselves.
“It’s not the first time he has struggled with [his command],’ Kipper added. “He’s still growing into his 6-foot-7 frame. There are so many things that Henry Owens does that you like, but with that said, there are still things he’s challenged with.”
Despite recent command issues, Owens has been as effective as ever, and with eight strikeouts on the night, he ranks third in all of Double-A with 49 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings. He’s held opposing batters to a .194/.296/.315 line through eight starts. And while a high pitch count forced Owens out of the game early, his last inning of work was his best, retiring the side in order with a fly out and two looking strikeouts.
“What is impressive about this young man is that he didn’t get caught up in the struggles of the night,” Kipper told Marshall. “He fought through four innings and was always trying to find a way to get through it. He was searching for his rhythm and his timing. He does all the things he needs to do on a day-to-day basis. [Consistency] is just the byproduct of work. Rhythm and timing is something you feel, it’s not something you formulate.”
— Feats of Mookie: Streaking towards history. Mookie Betts extended his on-base streak to 64 games (69 if you count the playoffs last season) right off the bat, clubbing his 12th double of the season. The second baseman came around to score on a pair of wild pitches. The 21-year-old also drew a walk and struck out, bringing his season totals in those categories to 19 and 13, respectively. Betts continues to lead all Eastern League batters with a .394 average, .460 OBP, and .599 slugging percentage. His 1.059 OPS is good for eighth amongst all minor leaguers.
During his 69-game on-base streak in Salem and Portland, he’s hitting .405/.477/.613. The minor league record for the most consecutive games reaching base is 71, shared by former Red Sox Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar — both of whom spent part of their streaks in Portland, Youkilis when he was coming up through the Red Sox system in 2002, Millar as a Marlins minor leaguer in 1997.
— Henry Ramos went 1-for-2 and drew two walks, the first time this season he’s drawn multiple walks in a game. Ramos has been one of Portland’s hottest hitters as of late, collecting hits in 12 of his last 14 contests and raising his line on the season to .333/.376/.455 through 34 games. But Ramos also committed a costly error in the field, his fourth of the season, allowing a run to score.
— Right-hander Jose Valdez walked in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth, a fitting end to a night in which Sea Dogs pitchers issued a total of 10 walks, a season high. Coming into the game with no outs and runners on second and third, Valdez allowed three straight singles (allowing an inherited runner to score) and induced a force out before issuing a six-pitch walk to Brandon Waring. Valdez took the loss, his first of the season. He has been an effective reliever for the Sea Dogs, however, posting a 1.98 ERA in 13 2/3 innings.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 3-2 WIN AT WILMINGTON (ROYALS)
— Right-hander Luis Diaz had his second straight strong start, tossing seven innings in which he allowed two runs on four hits (three doubles and a single) while punching out six and walking none. The outing marked the second straight and fourth of the year in which the 22-year-old didn’t walk a batter.
— Second baseman Reed Gragnani escaped a two-game rut without multiple hits, going 2-for-4. Gragnani has collected multiple hits in 14 of the 29 games he’s played this year, with the 23-year-old posting a .367/.444/.486 line.
— Catcher Carson Blair went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, and he’s now 0-for-17 with two walks and seven strikeouts in his last five games. Though he hits the ball far when he makes contact (10 of his 12 hits have been for extra bases, including four homers), his season line is now at .136/.295/.352.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-4 WIN (COMPLETION OF SUSPENDED GAME OF APRIL 19), 6-1 LOSS AT SAVANNAH (METS)
— Left-hander Daniel McGrath had a rough full-season debut, allowing four runs (three earned) in two innings of work. The 19-year-old native of Australia allowed four hits (three singles and a double) while walking three and striking out two. He received little help from his defense, as a four-run first was set in motion by a three-base error by Manuel Margot, but that came after McGrath had walked the first man he faced. Of the 58 pitches he threw, just 30 (51.7 percent) were strikes. McGrath joined Greenville to start in place of 2013 first-rounder Trey Ball, who landed on the DL due to strep throat on Wednesday.
— All of Greenville had a tough second game, with the team amassing 19 strikeouts against Savannah (including 12 in five innings by Mets starting prospect Dario Alvarez), but Manuel Margot had the most challenging contest of anyone on the Drive, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and committing errors on back-to-back plays in the first. The 19-year-old is now 1-for-19 with six whiffs over his last five games, with his line slipping to .248/.311/.405.
— Jantzen Witte went 2-for-4 in the first game before collecting a double and two walks in four plate appearances in the night game. The 24-year-old is now hitting .363/.458/.589, leading the South Atlantic League in OBP and ranking second in average and slugging.
— Shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin followed an 0-for-4 first game with an 0-for-5 performance that included three whiffs in the second contest. The three strikeouts matched a career high and dropped Lin’s line for the season to .227/.326/.294.
Alex Speier contributed to this report.
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