The first three years of Lynn native Ben Bowden’s professional baseball career in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system weren’t easy for the left-hander. Bowden spent the 2016 season in Single-A Asheville (N.C.), missed 2017 because of injuries, and split 2018 between Asheville and Advanced Single-A Lancaster (Calif.). Along with getting himself back to speed after undergoing surgery to repair a bulging disc, he was far from home.
But things are turning in Bowden’s favor in 2019. Physically, he feels he’s at 100 percent and he was promoted to Double-A Hartford (Conn.), a two-hour drive up I-90 West.
Bowden, who played high school baseball at English, cherishes being closer to friends and family as he rises through the Rockies’ ranks.
“It’s absolutely perfect,” said Bowden, 24. “It’s a great set up. I can come home when I want to, relatively. My parents (Larry and Stephanie) have been at almost every game so far. (This past weekend) at Manchester (N.H.) I had high school coaches there. People I want to see that I don’t see that often are able to come watch me play because I’m close. Being in Hartford, (Dunkin’ Donuts Park) is incredible, the fans are incredible. I’m very happy with where I’m at.”
Although it wasn’t easy recovering from the string of injuries that sidelined him two seasons ago, Bowden learned plenty from his ups and downs. In 49 relief appearances between Asheville and Lancaster in 2018, Bowden went 7-2 with a 3.98 ERA. MLB.com ranked Bowden as No. 16 on Colorado’s list of Top 30 prospects.
“Last year I was kind of testing things that I can do in the weight room, on and off the field,” he said. “Last year was a little bit of a learning lesson of when I’m sore, getting things taken care of. I learned a lot about how my body reacts to things. I’m doing a better job of understanding that, doing what I have to do to pitch every night.”
Bowden has made seven appearances for the Yard Goats this season. He has a 4.05 ERA and opponents are batting just .167 against him. Bowden entered the weekend tied for the Eastern League lead in saves with four. He picked up a save in last Friday’s 4-3 win at Manchester.
“The earliest I’ll usually go in the game is the seventh inning, depending on how the game is,” Bowden said. “Our coaches do a good job with communicating. I’ll generally have some idea of what’s going on. Usually around the sixth inning I’ll start to lock in and focus. That’s what it’s like with all our guys. When you see the starter’s pitch count get high you start to lock in. I have a love for late innings in close games, having that extra adrenaline. It’s something that I thrive off.
“I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie,” Bowden said. “I always feel I need a chance to prove myself. Close games are when I’m at my best. The jitters are there but once you’re on the mound that goes away and you’re just out there pitching.”
His four-pitch arsenal includes a slider, change-up, 2-seam fastball and 4-seam fastball that tops out at 96 miles per hour. Keeping command of each of them has been key as Bowden adjusts to an elevated level of play.
“The guys you’re pitching against have an increased understanding of how to hit, what pitches they hit well, identifying the strike zone better,” Bowden said. “You don’t see guys hacking any more. You have to execute pitches and when you don’t, it goes on the board as a hit. In Double-A, the guys have a much better understanding of how to hit. It makes our job as pitchers tougher, but it makes us want to get better.”
Before his assignment to Hartford, Bowden spent a month with the Rockies in the big league club’s spring camp. He made the most of his time with a group of experienced Major League pitchers.
“It was good to develop those relationships, meet the guys and let them get comfortable with who I am,” Bowden said. “I picked their brains as much as possible. I talked a lot to Wade Davis, Mike Dunn and Jake McGee. Those guys have been relievers for a long time. Some of the things I talked about with Wade have helped me in closing. Jake and Mike, their pitching styles are powerful, coming right at you. They’re very similar to the way I pitch.
“I’d talk to those guys as much as possible,” Bowden said. “How they get guys out and things like that. Those guys were incredibly helpful. It was eye-opening that they were so helpful to a non-roster invite.”
The Yard Goats were slow out of the gate, winning just one of their first seven games. Since then, they’ve trended in the right direction. Hartford has won seven of its last 11 and is now 8-10.
“I think our offense is really turning it on,” Bowden said. “I feel the pitching has been there the whole time. We ran into some tough pitching early in the year but the bats are coming around. I’m very happy with where we’re heading. We had a rough patch at the beginning. Once we got back home, we turned it around a little bit and now we’re playing good baseball.”