<
>

Red Sox's Henry Owens, Brian Johnson taking different paths

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For Henry Owens, this spring is all about the drive to be No. 5 -- as in the Boston Red Sox's No. 5 starter.

Brian Johnson has more modest goals.

"For me, [staying] healthy is the No. 1 thing," Johnson said Wednesday after making his first appearance since last August. "[Manager] John [Farrell] and [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] and I spoke about that when I had my player-plan meeting. For me, it was like John said, leaving camp healthy. Obviously, I want to exceed those expectations. I want to go out there and be healthy and execute my pitches and do well."

A year ago, Owens and Johnson came to camp on equal footing as two of the Sox's top three pitching prospects. But Owens surged ahead late in the season, making his first 11 big-league starts while Johnson dealt with tightness in his left elbow. Johnson initially concealed the injury from team officials and tried to pitch through the pain.

And so, while Owens has a chance to open the season in the Red Sox's rotation if either he outpitches right-hander Joe Kelly in spring training or lefty Eduardo Rodriguez is still dealing with a right knee injury, Johnson appears destined to break camp with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Never mind, then, that Johnson gave up two runs on two hits in 1 2/3 innings in relief of Owens (two scoreless innings) in the Sox's Grapefruit League opener, a 7-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins at JetBlue Park. Simply walking off the mound without any pain earned him praise -- a hug, too -- from Triple-A pitching coach Bob Kipper.

"I said, 'I felt like myself again.' He just said, 'It looked like night and day, the last time I saw you to this time,'" Johnson said. "It looked like myself."

With more at stake, Owens was able to make a more critical self-assessment. Although he struck out five of the 10 batters he faced over two innings, he also issued a pair of first-inning walks and exhibited the typical come-and-go command that has gotten him into trouble in the past.

But at a time when most pitchers are working strictly on their fastball command, Owens threw three pitches, including his curveball and changeup.

"Curveball was a little arm-side and had a couple little misses with the changeup," Owens said. "But my fastball command felt good, and [with] guys on base, I was able to find the zone a little better. Stay relaxed, tried not to be too excited."

Notes

  • In his first defensive chance, novice first baseman Hanley Ramirez bobbled a chopper by the Twins' Wilfredo Tovar but recovered in time to make a clean toss to Owens.

  • Catcher Christian Vazquez continued to make progress in his recovery from Tommy John surgery by throwing to bases "more aggressive than the last time out," Farrell said.

  • Top prospect Yoan Moncada, a 20-year-old second baseman who wasn't invited to big-league camp and figures to open the season at Single-A Salem, watched a few innings from the stands with fellow minor league infielder Carlos Mesa.