Friday, August 7, 2009

Michael Bowden's ill-timed tough start

Snippets from the aftermath of John Smoltz's stinker on Thursday:

"Michael Bowden is doing well enough in Triple-A Pawtucket, with a 3.40 ERA after a poor outing on Tuesday, and he could be an option if Smoltz continues to struggle." -- Providence Journal

"Michael Bowden could always take his spot in the rotation, though a National League scout who watched him pitch Wednesday in Pawtucket said he 'didn’t look very good at all.'" -- Boston Globe

"Though the alternatives are not good (Michael Bowden?), it’s hard to imagine the Sox sending Smoltz back to the mound Monday at Fenway against Detroit." -- Boston Globe

"Paul Byrd? He hasn’t thrown since last October. Michael Bowden? Far from sharp in his latest Pawtucket start." -- Boston Herald

"So what is Plan B? With his effectiveness the first time facing hitters, it would appear the value that can be derived from Smoltz the rest of the way might be as a member of the bullpen. But then there is that tricky matter of who starts. Michael Bowden had his roughest outing of the season on Wednesday in Pawtucket, giving up six runs over just three innings." --

Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield remain on the disabled list for the forseeable future, and Paul Byrd has to be at least a couple of weeks away given that he hasn't pitched in a game since last season's ALCS.

Michael Bowden, now the team's pitching prospect closest to major-league ready, picked the wrong time to have his worst start of the season: 3 IP, 6 H 6 ER, 3 BB, 4 K. He allowed three runs in the second inning and opened the fourth inning by walking the first two hitters he faced, eventually giving way to a bullpen that allowed all of its inherited runners to score.

The only worse start came on June 19 at Durham, when he allowed six earned runs in just one inning of work.

"We come out and, boom, we put runs on the board and have our guy on the mound," Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson said. "If I'm looking at our offensive production (on Wednesday) night and I know I'm going to get that with Michael Bowden pitching, I'm betting the ranch I'm shaking hands after the game. But it's humid as hell, and Mikey struggles with command. ... When the guys do those things, you can't be like, 'Oh, man, the pitching, you let us down tonight," when they've done such a good job all year."

That's the thing about Bowden: He has done it all year. In his last three starts before Wednesday's clunker, he'd thrown a combined 19 innings and allowed just three earned runs. (That works out to an ERA of 1.42.) Going into Wednesday's start, he'd pitched 14 straight innings without walking anyone.

He has a 3.40 ERA in 20 starts this season, and opponents are hitting .226 against him. While he has 38 walks in those 20 starts, he has 74 strikeouts, too.

He just picked a bad time for a bad start.

"It was tough to swallow that one," he said. "My team did everything they could. They were putting up runs, and I was letting the (Norfolk) Tides back into the ballgame right after that. It was tough, nothing a pitcher wants to do. It feels like I let my team down, and I feel like I let the bullpen down because they had to pick me up for six innings. It was just, all around, kind of a bummer.

"But my arm felt great, and my stuff was good. Besides a couple of bad pitches in the second inning and a spurt where I couldn't throw a strike in the fourth, it wasn't as bad as it looked. I took a lot of positives out of it even though it doesn't look like it. Like I said, it was a bummer, but today's a new day."

Bowden had begun to scuffle in June, allowing four or more earned runs in two of his last three starts of the month and walking five hitters in his first start in July. It was then, though, that he and the team took advantage of the International League's All-Star break to skip him in the rotation and give him a chance to look back at what he'd been doing and how he'd been throwing.
He spent a little extra time watching video during that two-week stretch, and he even found something he thinks has helped get him back on track.

"I wasn't getting over the rubber -- I was falling forward, and my arm was trailing," he said. "It was leading to a lot of inconsistency. I looked at some video footage of me in the past, checked it out, pinpointed what I needed to work on, and that's what we did. I worked on that during my rest, and I've been a lot more consistent."

Since that layoff:
* July 19: 5 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 5 K, 4 BB
* July 24: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 5 K, 0 BB
* July 30: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 6 K, 0 BB
* Aug. 5: 3 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 4 K, 3 BB

One of those starts sticks out as being aberrational. It just happens to be the most recent one.

"I've been commanding the ball a lot better," he said. "All of my pitches, I've been commanding better, my secondary stuff. I've been repeating my delivery more consistently, and it's shown. I've had a lot of good ballgames recently."

He's now just biding his time at Triple-A the way Clay Buchholz did until his callup in July. (Buchholz, by the way, still has a locker at McCoy Stadium with his name on it, his stall right next to Bowden's.)

"When I went up there for my two-inning stint against the Yankees, when I was in the office with Tito (Francona) and Theo (Epstein), they said they won't hesitate to call on me again," he said. "They're full up there. It's just a matter of timing when another opportunity arises."

With the way Smoltz has pitched lately -- not to mention Buchholz and Brad Penny -- it might not be long until the timing works out for Bowden.

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