FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It wasn't a knockout blow per se, but if Henry Owens loses his bid for the final spot in the Boston Red Sox's starting rotation, Thursday will mark the start in which his chances grew dim.
Never mind that Owens gave up four runs to a Baltimore Orioles split squad that featured only two regulars (Pedro Alvarez and Nolan Reimold). The 6-foot-6 left-hander struggled again to repeat his delivery and maintain his command, getting yanked after plunking Paul Janish with two outs in the third inning of an eventual 9-4 Red Sox victory at JetBlue Park.
"I felt like I had some mishaps with my mechanics," said Owens, who allowed four hits, two walks and hit two batters in 2⅔ innings. "I was thinking about it too much on the mound."
It's understandable if Owens is thinking, too, about the opportunity that has arisen now that the Red Sox have determined lefty Eduardo Rodriguez will open the season on the disabled list after missing most of camp with a dislocated right kneecap. But after walking seven batters in his last two starts, it seems he has fallen behind veteran knuckleballer Steven Wright and lefty Roenis Elias in the competition to be Rodriguez's stand-in.
"Because of today and the last two outings, that's not to say he's completely eliminated," manager John Farrell said of Owens. "But we're also at the midpoint of games in the schedule, and that competition starts to clarify itself the deeper you go."
Like Rodriguez, Owens made his major-league debut last season. He went 4-4 with a 4.57 ERA in 11 starts, often dealing with bouts of control problems.
"Home runs are going to be allowed, but it's probably the couple of walks leading up to the home run that you'd probably rather not see," Farrell said. "Command seemed to come and go a little bit today. As much as we wanted him to attack the strike zone with his fastball, which he did a little bit better job of vs. five days ago, still the overall consistent strike-throwing did come and go."
It might cause Owens to do the same in the fifth-starter race.
"I'm trying to get outs. I'm not trying to fall into any mind traps out there," Owens said. "It's a mental game enough. I'm trying to get outs and prepare myself for the season, whatever position that's in. I just want to help this team."
Spring of Sam: First base prospect Sam Travis continued his torrid spring by crushing a three-run homer off the top of the center-field batter's eye in the second inning against Orioles starter Vance Worley. Travis, who is expected to open the season at Triple-A Pawtucket, is 12-for-20 (.600) with two doubles, two homers and 12 RBI in 14 spring-training games.
"He doesn't seem to change despite who he might be facing, the setting," Farrell said. "It's a strong hitter, good bat speed, demonstrates obviously some big power here today. But you like the overall aggressiveness, you love the attention that he pays in the early work prior to games. Exciting young player."
This and that: Given the likelihood that either Elias or Wright will be in the rotation, the Red Sox might be seeking another reliever capable of pitching multiple innings. Behold hard-throwing right-hander Matt Barnes, who tossed 2⅓ scoreless innings to bring his total to 5⅓ scoreless frames this spring. ... Infielder Marco Hernandez suffered a subluxation of his left shoulder when he slipped while rounding first base. Hernandez, acquired in the 2014 trade that sent lefty Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs, is 11-for-19 with six doubles and seven RBI this spring.
On deck: The Red Sox will split up Friday for a pair of 1:05 p.m. ET games. Half the squad will host the Twins, with right-hander Rick Porcello opposing Minnesota right-hander Tyler Duffey, while the other half will visit the Rays in Port Charlotte, Florida, Elias facing Tampa Bay lefty Dana Eveland.