Ben Rowen has heard every taunt imaginable.
The catcalls begin when the 6-foot-3 reliever enters a game. Rowen even chuckled a bit the first couple of times he was called “Jennie Finch.”
But by the time the right-hander leaves the game, opposing fans usually have nothing left to say.
After all, what clever putdowns can the peanut gallery come up with after Rowen logs another successful stint out of the bullpen?
Of all the positive results by the Spokane Indians’ pitching staff this Northwest League season, the numbers compiled by Rowen may be the most surprising. After 15 appearances and 25 innings, Rowen’s earned-run average stands at 1.44.
Drafted in the 22nd round out of Virginia Tech, Rowen arrived in Spokane without much fanfare but with a pitching style that caught everyone’s intention.
Rowen is a true submariner, delivering his pitches underhand from a severely crouched position.
While overhand pitchers typically deliver fastballs at 85 mph or more, Rowen’s fastball averages around 72 mph.
“The speed and velocity (for submariners) are really different … but you also get a lot more movement on the ball,” Rowen said.
Two-thirds of the time, overeager batters will chop Rowen’s pitches into the ground. Power hitters are especially vulnerable to the sight of his relatively slow offerings.
“They try to put it over the fence, seeing it’s 75 mph, so I get them to roll over and get a ground ball,” Rowen said.
Rowen was a self-described “nothing special” overhand pitcher entering high school in Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif., near Los Angeles. His young high school coach convinced Rowen to throw sidearm by showing him photos of a former University of Florida teammate who was a submariner.
By the time Rowen entered Los Angeles Harbor JC, his sidearm delivery had dipped to submarine levels.
No Division I colleges recruited Rowen until Virginia Tech pitching coach Dave Turgeon saw him competing in a North Carolina summer league.
The Hokies benefitted from Rowen’s arrival and improved both years he played in Blacksburg. Last season, Rowen finished 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 54 innings.
The Texas Rangers, who have submariner Darren O’Day on their roster, drafted Rowen in June.
“It’s good to be a sought-out commodity and something that’s different,” Rowen said. “I can come in one inning here and there and (the batters) don’t see it that often so it’s hard to adjust to it.”
Rowen said Indians coaches have been “hands-off” with his style this summer, but he needed their assistance with one problem.
“They do help with my change-up when I’m trying to figure out how to do that,” Rowen said. “That’s the big thing right now, developing the change-up.”
Although he’s had similar injuries to overhand pitchers, Rowen’s form generally puts little strain on his arm. He had back problems early in his conversion to sidearm, but those are mostly gone despite how stooped-over he looks on the mound.
Rowen has had few shaky outings other than a July 31 game against Eugene, the team that opens a five-game series tonight in Spokane. In that game, Rowen walked three batters in 1 1/3 innings. The rest of the season, he’s issued eight walks, including just three others in the last five weeks.
Rowen needs 15 credits to complete his business management degree at Virginia Tech. He’ll return to school after the NWL season, unless he’s invited to instructional league in Arizona.
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