Red Sox prospect Bowden gets used to bullpen role

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FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — 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.

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“(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.”

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