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While NESN Was Showing Charlie Moore and Poker, Henry Owens Was Dazzling in Pawtucket

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Somebody was dealing on NESN Monday night, but unfortunately it wasn’t Henry Owens.

Talk about your missed opportunities.

Owens, the young lefty pitcher being groomed to be the next Red Sox stud in the making, made his Triple-A debut with the Pawtucket Red Sox Monday night, and electrified McCoy Stadium, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Columbus Clippers, and striking out nine in the process. While it was all going on, NESN was delivering you Charlie Moore and something called “The Heartland Poker Tour.”

With the Red Sox off for the night and Owens being called up, it might behoove the network to carry Charter Cable’s feed of the game. We already heard from Moore in the NESN booth during the THIRD INNING of Friday night’s Red Sox-Yankees game, one day after Ben Cherington laid TNT all over the clubhouse floor. But hey, why talk about Stephen Drew’s first at-bat as a Yankee when there’s promotin’ to be ‘a doin’?

Is it just easier for NESN to run with some syndicated some poker show that maybe got a 0.0 rating if it’s lucky, rather than make the effort to simulcast the game?

No matter though. Based on the way Owens looked Monday night, he might be on NESN - with the parent club - by next month’s September call-ups.

Owens struck out the side in the first inning, his first four batters in all at the Triple-A level, and it was clear that his debut was going to be one of those “I was there…” moments at McCoy. He walked three and allowed a pair of hits overall in 6 2/3 innings, earning his first win in Pawtucket after being called up from Double-A Portland, where he was 14-4 with the Sea Dogs this season.

“He’s a beauty,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles told the Providence Journal. “He just carried what he was doing at Portland. A lot of guys have nerves; they look like the game speeds up on them. But we never saw that from him tonight.”

The ProJo’s Brian MacPherson wrote that Owens’ curveball was effective against the Clippers Monday night, a development that Owens was likely satisfied with based on the hits he’s taken in scouting reports over his lack of one. As MacPherson wrote, “Baseball America said two offseasons ago that Henry Owens throws ‘an average curveball.’ Baseball America said last offseason that Owens throws a curveball that ‘has been on and off, but when it’s effective, he dominates.’ MLB.com has written that ‘his slow curveball flashes the potential to be a third above-average offering, though it remains inconsistent.’

Even after his remarkable stint at Portland, and his ascent to Pawtucket, that’s where the Red Sox still see Owens - as a No. 3 starter - even if he is their top pitching prospect on the farm, and the second-ranked player behind only Mookie Betts overall. But Owens has developed a curve, one MacPherson notes that he can throw as slowly as 69 miles per hour.

“He was telling me people were saying he didn’t have a curveball, so he said, ‘Hey, let’s show them I have a curveball,’” said catcher Blake Swihart, who on Monday was also promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, which was clearly a destination for more reason than $1 hot dog night. “So there it is.”

And there it is.

“The ability to have a delivery that is on time is a challenge that all pitchers face, including Henry Owens,” Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper told MLB.com recently. “He’s come a long, long way in that regard. A lot of what he’s done has been really impressive. So now the expectations everyone has for Henry are really high. Then he stumbled a little bit with his ability to command the baseball and he grinded through some outings. But with that said . . . his ability to manage the struggle is pretty impressive. And the way that he does it, keeping his routine, the things he does day in and day out -- his throwing program, improving his length and extension out front, the shadow work that he does -- staying true to that has really allowed him to break through to the point that he is a little bit more familiar with a delivery that is on time. He understands timing a lot better now than he did a month ago.”

Owens looks and feels like the real deal, the next Jon Lester in the making. Maybe even the next Bruce Hurst.

And yet, before we get ahead of ourselves, here’s one scout’s take on Owens - via CSNNE.com - who just sort of poops in the punch bowl by comparing him to Felix Doubront.

“I don’t see him as a No. 1,” the scout said. “I see him in the mix at the back of a rotation, like a No. 3 or 4 starter. He doesn’t have a knockout breaking ball that [Clayton] Kershaw has or [David] Price has. Those guys are different. They’re horses. Not only do they have good stuff, but they answer the bell. The [Justin] Verlanders, those guys, that’s a big role.

“I think he could be as good or better than [Felix] Doubront. I think his command is spotty at times. I love the changeup. He has good deception with the fastball, he moves it around. But he throws that soft curveball that’s just so slow and I think the better hitters will hurt him.

“I know he’s had good outings in Portland, but a couple times he gets bopped a little bit. I’m curious to see when he gets up [to Boston]. I think he’s the next guy as a starter that helps them along with maybe [Allen] Webster and [Brandon] Workman. I have him ahead of [Anthony] Ranaudo and [Matt] Barnes, just because he knows how to pitch a little bit and he figures it out. He’s got really good game presence, but I don’t see a knockout breaking ball from him. Owens doesn’t have the curveball. It’s soft. It’s low-70s. It’s effective but most of the strikeouts come on the fastball or the changeup.

“That doesn't mean he can't go 18-7 as a starter someday. I just don't see him as front-of-the-line guy that makes a team say, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got no shot against this guy.’ I don't see him being that. I will say this that if he was 25 right now, he's probably their third or fourth starter. I just don't see the power arm.”

Maybe not. Then again, Jamie Moyer had 269 wins in the major leagues too.

What is evident is that Owens’ starts will be must-attend events at McCoy over the next-month plus. We’d hail them as appointment television too, but NESN only has one more PawSox game on its incredibly limited (five games?) broadcast schedule. If there is one thing you can’t deviate from, it’s the time slot that brings you a replay of “World Tennis with Harry Cicma.”

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