In the six weeks he has managed the Red Sox in place of John Farrell, Torey Lovullo has demonstrated a willingness to push his starting pitcher deep into games.
The Red Sox have only a few reliable options in the bullpen; that's part of the reason. But facing a lineup for a third or fourth time also tests a starter and aids the team's ability to evaluate its roster in preparation for next season.
So it was with little hesitation Lovullo sent rookie righthander Henry Owens back out for the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night with the Sox trailing by a run.
Owens had thrown only 76 pitches to that point and allowed two earned runs.
"I don't think I could have slept tonight if we took him out of the game," Lovullo said. "That wasn't in my gut. That wasn't in the cards for me. I wanted to send him back out there with a chance to come back in the dugout where we could score some runs and get him the win."
Instead, Owens gave up a two-run home run to Mikie Mahtook and the Red Sox lost, 5-2, before a crowd of 33,673 at Fenway Park.
It was a night of extremes and some lessons learned for Owens. He was perfect for four innings then allowed five runs on seven hits over his final 3⅓ innings.
"I felt like we still had them off balance. Made some pitches to get out of some situations. But with two strikes I was a little overzealous at times and left a couple of pitches up in the zone," Owens said.
Owens got ahead of Brandon Guyer to start the eighth inning before giving up a double to left field. Mahtook then ripped a 2-and-2 changeup over everything in left field.
The Sox had their three-game win streak snapped. They scored twice in the first inning then advanced only two runners to second base the rest of the game.
"The game kind of reversed," Lovullo said. "I just wish it ended the way it started."
Through nine starts, Owens shows plenty of promise. The Rays swung and missed at 21 of his pitches on Tuesday, a high amount for any pitcher but especially for a 23-year-old without a high-end fastball.
Owens doesn't often surpass 91 miles per hour, but his fastball is difficult to pick up as it leaves his hand and he has an above-average changeup. He also mixes in a curveball.
"He's hasn't done what he's done because he's lucky. He's making pitches," Lovullo said. "He's doing a great job of changing locations, changing speeds, working his fastball to both sides of the plate. He's finding a way to get himself out of trouble. It's a great characteristic and something you don't see very often from a young pitcher."
Owens (3-3) has a 6.35 earned run average in five starts at Fenway Park. It's 1.99 in four starts on the road.
Owens needed only 38 pitches to get through the first four innings. The perfect game ended when Logan Forsythe led off the fifth inning with a double high off the wall in center field, belting a first-pitch fastball.
Down, 2-0, the Rays played small ball. Asdrubal Cabrera bunted Forsythe to third base and Steven Souza Jr. drove him in with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Owens walked Richie Shaffer leading off the sixth inning then hit Guyer with a pitch with one out. Mahtook singled to load the bases.
Evan Longoria sent a fly ball out to right field for a sacrifice fly. A second run scored when Mookie Betts's throw to the plate sailed and bounced into the stands for an error.
Owens loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh inning, but the Rays did not score. Shaffer grounded to first and Travis Shaw fired to the plate for an out. Luke Maile then bounced a ball back to the mound that Owens grabbed and threw to the plate to start a double play.
The Sox scored two quick runs off Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore.
Betts led off the first inning with a double to center field. Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz drew walks to load the bases.
Shaw continued to impress with a two-run single to right-center. He was 3 for 3 with a walk and through 53 games is hitting .294 with 30 RBIs. Hitting behind Ortiz has been comfortable for him.
"I enjoy it. There are certain times I know he's getting pitched around to get to me. I take that as a challenge," Shaw said. "It motivates me to try and get the job done to come up in the clutch like he's done for so long."
Moore (2-4) allowed only five other hits without another walk before leaving the game with the lead in the seventh inning.
Bogaerts was 2 for 3 with a walk, raising his batting average to .325. But he was doubled off second base in the third inning, misreading a line drive to left. And he was thrown out in the eighth inning trying to stretch a single into a double.