Red Sox prospect Bowden gets used to bullpen role

Signing with the Red Sox after being drafted out of high school
in 2005, Michael Bowden began his climb through the Boston farm
system and was named the organization’s top pitching prospect by
Baseball America before the 2008 season.

But last season, spent primarily at Triple-A Pawtucket with
three call-ups to Boston, was mostly a year of learning for the
right-hander. With Pawtucket, he went 4-6 with a 3.13 ERA in 24
starts. With the Red Sox he was 1-1 with an 9.56 ERA in eight
appearances.

He was first called to the big leagues last April 26, pitching
two scoreless innings out of the bullpen against the New York
Yankees in a 4-1 win. The next time he faced the Yankees, another
two innings in an August call-up, was a very different story.

In that appearance, Bowden gave up seven runs on eight hits and
three walks in a 20-11 loss. One of the things he learned last
season was that pitching out of the bullpen in the majors is very
different from starting in the minors.

“(In the first outing) I knew what innings I was pitching. I’m
very structured. I’ve started my whole career. So I could prepare
that like a start,” Bowden said. “The second time I got called up
it was very tough, because all it was was a lack of experience. I
didn’t know how many throws my body needed to warm up. I got warmed
up in the second, third. I threw way more than I should have.

“So obviously I learned tons because I won’t ever do that
again.”

Dealing with that kind of adversity can help.

“Almost everyone will go through it,” said Red Sox minor
league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel. “It’s how they deal with
that will help them determine how successful they can be. And he
did a very good job with it.”

Last season Bowden was working on adding a slider to his
repertoire. He had difficulty with the new pitch at the beginning
of the season but eventually began to throwing it with confidence
and consistency. He is considering shelving his 12-6 curveball,
which he was having trouble throwing for strikes, in favor of the
slider.

“We wanted something that goes away from a righty and would
stay in the strike zone longer,” he said. “And that’s what we
found. So if that’s getting the same thing accomplished as the
curveball was when I was throwing it for strikes, then there
wouldn’t really be a need for (the curveball).”

Bowden also learned at the end of the season that his delivery
needed to be revised. He brought it up to Treuel and Boston
pitching coach John Farrell, knowing something needed to be
changed. They gave him video of Scott Richmond, Joe Blanton, and a
few other pitchers. Bowden spent the offseason reworking his
mechanics.

He’s very excited about his new mechanics.

“This is a lot easier,” he said. “Just by watching me last
year, I was so tense. It didn’t look easy. So this, the first time
I tried it, it felt good. It has not been hard at all. In my first
bullpen I’m throwing right around the zone. I’m a lot more
consistent. I’m staying online. It wasn’t really a hard transition.
Now it’s just a matter or repeating it, and staying as consistent
as I can with it, and that’s what spring training is for.”

Bowden also learned that in spite of that August outing against
the Yankees, he enjoys pitching out of the bullpen. In his third
call-up, he sat 12 days between outings, giving him a chance to
take on a reliever’s mentality.

“I learned so much those 12 days because I was in the bullpen
and I didn’t know (when I was) going to throw,” he said. “So
everyday I had to show up to the park and prepare like I was going
to throw. I really got a good routine down. Just talking to all
those guys in the bullpen. Preparing every day like every time the
phone rang it could be me. I just learned how to prepare like a
reliever. It was just a lot of fun. I didn’t think I’d like it but
I had a blast in the bullpen, and I really enjoyed it.”

This spring is the most optimistic he has felt going into a
season, he said.

“I was so antsy in December to get down to spring training
because I wanted to start throwing, get out there in games,” he
said. “So I’m real excited for this year because I feel much more
well rounded and like a better all-around player.”