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Eating it up

Prospect Bowden is digesting new program

Red Sox pitching prospect Michael Bowden will try to harness his curveball this season, probably at Double A Portland. Red Sox pitching prospect Michael Bowden will try to harness his curveball this season, probably at Double A Portland. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / February 29, 2008

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Their refrigerator would have been a boon for anyone lucky enough to discover it. Because when you're required to eat about 4,500 calories per day, all of it made with a "holistic" approach that shuns bad fats and dressings and, really, much of what Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden might have consumed had Athletes' Performance Institute not been preparing their meals, there's often a little bit left over.

Don't tell those cooks back in Pensacola, but just a few of their creations might have ended up in the trash.

"It'd be like two servings of pasta with marinara sauce, either hamburger, steak, chicken," Bowden said. "There's going to be salad in there, there's going to be vegetables in there, there's going to be fruit in there, some type of fat, like avocado or something like that. It was quite a bit. And right before that, we had an 800-calorie protein shake. It was huge.

"We were still full from the protein shake, and they expect us to eat all that food? We did our best, but sometimes we couldn't put it all down, and I'm notorious for eating quite a bit of food."

Bowden, one of the Red Sox' promising minor league pitchers, ranked No. 94 among Baseball America's top 100 prospects, was driving to a gym in Chicago when his cellphone rang in early October. On the line was Mike Hazen, the Red Sox director of player development, asking him his plans for the next six weeks. Bowden paused, knowing what might be coming. Or knowing, at least, that any plans he had made just might need to be canceled.

So, after a brief delay because of teammate Justin Masterson's wedding in South Bend, Ind., Bowden took off for Pensacola in early November, heading for a shared apartment with Buchholz and a whole lot of food.

"Just highlighting a few of the physical things that we have stressed with him since he signed, most notably from a stretching standpoint," Hazen said, explaining why Bowden was sent to API. He's more of a tighter-wound pitcher. That's just who he is physiologically. We just felt like having that dedicated strength and conditioning for six weeks was worth for us the investment to make."

The team has done similar things with Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia, sending them to facilities to make sure they work on specific things in the offseason.

Just 21, Bowden, a nonroster invitee to spring training, will almost certainly begin the season at Double A, but the Red Sox wanted to bring him up to big league camp to "acclimate him to the major league staff and the major league environment," pitching coach John Farrell said. Though he dominated in the difficult pitching atmosphere of Single A Lancaster (2-0, 1.37 ERA in eight starts spanning 46 innings), Bowden struggled a bit after he was promoted to Double A Portland (8-6, 4.28 in 19 starts covering 96 2/3 innings).

"The one thing that we have honed in on from a fundamental standpoint is just the command of his curveball," Farrell said. "It seemed to elude him a little bit when he went to Double A last year, and he was challenged a little bit more when he didn't have that third pitch to keep hitters from discarding his offspeed pitch and looking for his fastball solely."

Bowden has been listening. A 2005 sandwich pick (47th overall), he is extremely hard on himself, which he readily acknowledges. Discussing his problem with breaking pitches, he showed a bit of the frustration he had felt in not being able to discover and make the alterations himself.

"It's getting there, made a change a few days ago," Bowden said Monday of his curveball. "They saw me doing something that, I don't know, I should have felt it. That's my job to feel. It's come a long way. I feel very comfortable with it.

"I was just bringing my curveball in, trying to get too much on top of it, not my normal arm angle," added Bowden, who worked a perfect fourth inning with one strikeout last night in a 15-0 exhibition win over Northeastern. "I was trying to muscle it, it was hard, and now it's just easy. Better break, better action, just easier. Now I just need to get a consistent release point."

That would be a significant step in Bowden's development. So too was his trip to API. He came to camp looking more like a developing prospect than the kid he resembled last season in the minors.

For that, give credit to those feasts. To workouts, then protein shakes, then workouts, then an abundance of food. And, possibly, to a strong digestive system.

"It was ridiculous," Buchholz said. "There's no way I could eat all that food. It was like 3 pounds of food in a bag. I'd try to eat a little bit of everything, but there was no way I could eat it all."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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