HOUSTON — Henry Owens had a chance to make the Red Sox out of spring training and pitched almost indifferently. Steven Wright won the job instead and it wasn’t a tough decision.
Owens changed the story once he started the season with Triple A Pawtucket. In three starts, the lefthander allowed two runs on eight hits over 18 innings and struck out 23.
That made Owens an easy choice to face the Houston Astros on Sunday night in place of the injured Joe Kelly.
“In [Owens’s] final outing in spring training, he pitched with I thought a lot more crispness, better command. He’s maintained that through the starts at Pawtucket thus far,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said on Friday.
“I thought he controlled his delivery better, things started to click for him and he’s maintained that.”
The only issue for Owens in Triple A has been command. He has walked 10 so far. He won’t be able to get away with that for long in the majors.
“Any time you see walks, one could suggest is the strike zone different there than it is here? Time will tell that.” Farrell said. “This is also someone who came up and handled this environment well last year. With major league innings under his belt, he’s the guy we’re going to.”
Owens was 4-4 with a 4.57 ERA in 11 starts for the Red Sox last year. He was called up on Aug. 4 and stayed in the rotation for the rest of the season.
In six of his starts, Owens allowed one or no runs. But he gave up seven runs three times.
Owens will face Scott Feldman.
To supplement their battered bullpen, the Red Sox recalled lefthander Roenis Elias from Pawtucket and optioned righthander William Cuevas.
Elias, who was scheduled to start for the PawSox on Friday night, is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two starts in the minors.
“It felt good to start some games and get some games under my belt. Now I’m here and ready to work hard,” Elias said via translator Daveson Perez.
Elias was 15-20 with a 3.97 ERA for the Seattle Mariners the last two seasons, starting 49 games. He has two games of major league relief experience.
Elias may not be in the majors for long. The Sox are carrying 13 pitchers and plan to get down to 12 when they recall Owens on Sunday.
“We’ve got some roster moves that will take place between now and then,” Farrell said.
Of course that depends on the bullpen not having to pick up extra innings. Relievers pitched 9⅓ innings on Tuesday and 5⅓ on Thursday. Through Thursday, Red Sox relievers had pitched 56 innings, the second-most in the American League.
“Based on who’s been available and how many have been available the last few nights, we’ve been operating with an extremely thin bullpen. . . . We’ve got to catch up out there,” Farrell said.
Price still confident
A day after he allowed eight runs over 3⅔ innings against Tampa Bay, David Price took to Twitter to reassure Red Sox fans.
“Tough day yesterday but I WILL get better!! Stick with me #soxnation I’m determined to make all of you love me!!” he wrote.
Price said he did not spend extra time reviewing his start.
“Flush it and move on,” he said. “It’s not mechanical or physical. I need to execute my pitches. I will.”
Farrell agreed with that assessment.
“He didn’t have his normal command to his glove side, in to righthanded hitters. There were a few more pitches pushed to the arm side. It was overall command. He ended up pitching the majority of the time to one side of the plate and they were able to hone in on that one spot.’’
“It wasn’t a repetitive flaw in the delivery that was not adjusted. He was in the strike zone at times but not the location consistently.”
Lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez is scheduled to throw 75 pitches in an extended spring training game in Fort Myers, Fla., on Saturday. Righthanded reliever Carson Smith is set for one inning in the same game.
From there, both could be assigned to minor league teams to start their rehabilitation assignments.
“Both guys are advancing well,” Farrell said. “They’re responding to the intensity ramping up.”
Rodriguez is on the disabled list with a knee injury, Smith with a flexor muscle strain.
Farrell said Rodriguez would need at least two minor league starts. Smith will likely need three appearances, two of them back-to-back.
Based on that schedule, both pitchers could return on or around May 3.
Although the Red Sox badly need Smith to improve their late-inning relief depth, they can’t skip any steps in his rehab plan.
“We have to make sure his health is first and foremost before he gets back here,” Farrell said.
With the Golden State Warriors in town to face the Houston Rockets, Red Sox fan Steph Curry was at Minute Maid Park, sitting right behind the plate. Curry had his bachelor party at Fenway Park in 2011. Game 4 of the Warriors-Rockets series is Sunday afternoon . . . Jerry Remy is not on this road trip for NESN. Steve Lyons is working with Dave O’Brien . . . Pablo Sandoval, who is on the disabled list with what the team says is a shoulder injury, is not on the trip . . . With the Red Sox in town, Minute Maid Park is selling lobster rolls at two concession stands this weekend . . . David Ortiz received a custom-made cowboy hat from the Astros in a brief pre-game ceremony. This will be his final trip to Minute Maid Park unless the Red Sox and Astros meet in the playoffs.