Interviewing rising star Michael Bowden

Evan BrunellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2008

Pawtucket Red Sox pitching coach Rich Sauveur was relaxing in his McCoy Stadium office before a game on August 29, discussing Boston’s latest “stud” pitching prospect, Michael Bowden, who was promoted to Triple A during the season.

At the end of the discussion Sauveur said quite matter-of-factly, “I think the kid can pitch in the big leagues.”

Sauveur isn’t psychic, but about five hours later Bowden, who’s rated the No. 7 prospect in Boston’s farm system by Baseball America, was called up from Pawtucket to replace an ailing Josh Beckett in Boston’s rotation.

Granted, Bowden only pitched in one game before he was returned to Pawtucket. But one game was all he needed to notch his first major league victory — 8-2 over the Chicago White Sox. In the process, he allowed two runs on seven hits and was in complete command against a team that’s battling Minnesota for the American League Central title.

That being said, Bowden (who turns 22 on Sept. 9) always has been about command and not necessarily when referring to his stuff.

Just ask Portland Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler, for whom Bowden pitched a substantial part of last season and until July 21 this year when he was kicked upstairs to Pawtucket.

At the time of his promotion, Bowden was 9-4 with a 2.33 ERA plus 101 strikeouts and only 24 walks in 104 1/3 innings.

“When it’s his day to pitch, he doesn’t talk to you,” said Beyeler said after a June 24 game at Connecticut. “He’s locked in. He’s not the guy that, when you walk to the mound, he gives you the ball and walks off. He stares at you the whole way out there. He’s like ‘What are you doing coming out here? I’m not coming out.’

“On my side, I hate going out to take him out of a game because it hurts him. You come to get him for a reason and he hates that. He wants to finish an inning and then you can take him out. But, that’s a great problem to have and I love him. He’s a bulldog guy. He’s a guy you want in your foxhole.”

Mention the word bulldog and it’s reasonable to associate the adjective tenacious with it.

“In different terms, you call him a ‘gamer,’” said Sauveur. “I heard that in spring training from (Portland pitching coach) Mike Cather. I’ve used it a few times myself.

“His attitude is outstanding. It’s tough to teach winning. He has that innate quality.”

Good point, because according to Bowden, he isn’t easily intimidated (if at all).

“That’s my mentality when I go out there,” he said. “I’m not afraid of anything. I go right after hitters and I’m fearless out there.

“I just try to do everything right.”

That brings up another aspect of Bowden’s personality, a self-professed desire to be a perfectionist — regardless if he’s throwing a baseball or even playing cards with his teammates before a game.

“The only think that’s done for myself is benefit me, because everything I want to do I want to do to the best of my potential and do it the best I can,” he said. “By doing that, if I make adjustments I want to make the pitch better. I want to do it more consistently.

“My mindset is I strive for perfection but I understand, personally, that nobody is perfect. I know there are going to be mistakes — a lot of them. And I can understand that. But if you strive for perfection, it can’t hurt.”

Case in point: during a June 24 game at the Connecticut Defenders, Bowden was tagged for an early home run. That he was “upset” was obvious just by watching his body language.

Pity the next three batters, each of whom Bowden blew away on strikeouts.

“He made a good pitch but it was up and the guy drove it the other way with two strikes,” said Beyeler. “And he was upset about that. It’s great when he’s just wheeling through people. But it’s nice when some guys hit him around a little bit and put some heat on him and tick him off. He’s the kind of guy that will bow his neck for you.

“He’ll come back and he loves to bury people.

Bowden wouldn’t have it any another way.

“I’ve always been like that, even when I was growing up with school and everything I did like projects, working out and every sport that I’ve ever played,” he said. “It’s kind of been the way I’ve gone about everything.

“I’m very competitive. I like to win. I’m very upset when I do something that doesn’t help us win, or when I’m, not happy with myself or my performance.”

When Bowden competes physically he does so with an above-average fastball and curveball plus an ever-improving changeup. But it’s something more subjective that endears him to the likes of Beyeler and Sauveur.

“His attitude has been outstanding since he’s been here,” said Sauveur.

“His mound presence is outstanding. When you can sit there and your mound presence is strong, no matter what the situation is, that says a lot.

“I don’t care if it’s bases loaded and nobody out, or if he’s got two outs and nobody on, his attitude doesn’t change. His mound presence is the same no matter what. He’s like ‘I’m going to get this hitter right now.’ His maturity level is so far above average it’s amazing.”

What isn’t necessarily “amazing” as it’s so much understandable is the way Bowden competes against other prospects either in Boston or the organization’s farm system.

“When (Justin) Masterson got called up, he didn’t say it but it lit a fire under him where he wants to keep up with him and (Clay) Buchholz,” said Beyeler “They’re all good friends.

“Nobody works harder than him because he’s on a mission and he’s not a ‘give-up’ kid. He’s going to pitch in the major leagues because he’s going to make himself pitch there. That’s the kind of kid he is.”