Friday, August 21, 2009

Bowden finally gets his turn

You can tell how comfortable Michael Bowden is with The Show just by looking at his haircut.

The hard-throwing righty received word late Thursday night that he would be making his third trip to the major leagues. He made a spot start a year ago and a spot relief appearance, pitching two innings against the Yankees, back in April. It's getting to be part of the routine.

Bowden, then, didn't exactly freak out when he got word from Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson that the Red Sox were in need of his services. He was shaving his head in the McCoy Stadium locker room on Thursday when he got a tap on his shoulder, and he barely turned around.

"I was shaving my head in the Pawtucket locker room, and RJ came in and said, 'When you're done shaving your head, come into my office so I can tell you about going to the big leagues,'" Bowden said from his locker stall at Fenway Park on Friday. "I took my time and still showered and everything, taking my time, acting like it wasn't a big deal."

But it was a big deal.

Not only does Bowden have a chance to spend more than one day in the major leagues for the first time -- he was optioned immediately back to Pawtucket after each of his first two appearances -- he finally could stop wondering when his turn was going to come.

He also had to watch while several fellow PawSox pitchers received the call before he did: Junichi Tazawa, Clay Buchholz, Fernando Cabrera, Marcus McBeth and Billy Traber all have been called up from Triple-A since mid-July to plug various holes in the Red Sox pitching staff. The spot in the starting rotation Tazawa filled easily could have been filled by Bowden instead.

"I thought there were a couple of opportunities in there where I thought I might have been able to get the opportunity," he said, betraying about as much as he was going to betray. "But I know they have a different agenda. They needed something else. I was just waiting for my opportunity. I was hoping it was going to come sooner rather than later, and fortunately, it did. I'm happy to be here and happy to be in this role."

The extra time at Triple-A gave Bowden a chance to bounce back from a rough stretch in the middle of the season and find his groove once again. He now has a 3.20 ERA in 22 starts and has allowed two runs or fewer in six of his last seven outings. Since a planned skipped start in July that allowed him to revist some mechanical issues, he has a 2.91 ERA and more than twice as many strikeouts (28) as walks (12).

Whatever the Red Sox were waiting to see when they passed over him in favor of Tazawa, they've seen it. He has allowed just two earned runs in 12 innings pitched -- a 1.50 ERA -- since that decision was made.

All he can do now is show off the stuff he's shown off since the beginning of the season. He'll do so in a long-relief role behind Brad Penny on Friday and Tazawa on Saturday. The odds of both pitchers going seven strong innings are pretty slim, and that means Bowden could have a chance to throw some bullpen-saving innings in some big spots.

"We're trying not to protect our bullpen but to enhance it," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "If there's a game where we don't get length -- and I hope that doesn't happen -- Michael will be in the bullpen. ... We've tried every year to have young players, pitchers, incorporated into our season when we feel like they're ready to do that. He's proved he's more than ready."

Francona even hinted that a start might be in the offing somewhere down the road for Bowden.

"He gives us some protection in the bullpen, and, going forward, he does give us some flexibility about what we want to do," Francona said. "But for the time being, he's in the bullpen, and we'll go from there."

And as much as Bowden tried to hide his excitement at McCoy Stadium on Thursday, there was no hiding it at Fenway Park on Friday.

"It could be 20 years, and I'd be excited to be here," he said.

(Update: Bowden surrendered seven runs, all earned, in two innings of work in relief of Brad Penny. The Red Sox, who had to burn three more relievers in the late innings of their 20-11 defeat, optioned the righty back to Pawtucket after the game.)

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