While teammate Blake Hassebrock has ranked as one of the Midwest League's top pitchers all season, and A.J. Griffin and Jake Brown were promoted to the High-A Stockton in May, Bees starter Josh Bowman has flown under the radar for Aaron Nieckula's squad. But don't under-estimate the 6'2'' right-hander's importance to Burlington's first-half division championship.
Thanks in part to Bowman's efforts in the rotation, the Bees remain at the top of the Midwest League in team ERA. He has pitched a team-high 94.1 innings and is tied with reliever Pedro Vidal for the team lead with six wins. Through 16 starts, he has posted a 3.24 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.
For Bowman, it's more about putting in the work and leaving the game with his team in position to win.
"From the beginning of the year I have just wanted to eat up innings," said Bowman, who has lost just one decision in his past seven starts dating back to the third week of May.
"When you're eating up innings, that means you're going late in the ballgames and pitching pretty well. I'm just trying to get quick outs. It's awesome to go out there sometimes with nine or 10 pitches and have three outs and keep your defense on its toes."
Both Bowman and Hassebrock have certainly done that in the first three months of the Midwest League slate, and currently comprise a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the Bees' rotation.
The two have also fostered a competitive spirit that started during the rookie league last summer and has carried over to their current spot in a Bees' rotation that includes Tyler Vail, Nate Long and Sean Murphy.
"Blake and I are the most competitive guys you could ever meet, and with one another especially," Bowman said.
"It all started when we first got drafted playing ping-pong baseball at our apartment in Arizona. We first met each other and the next day we're playing ping-pong baseball just throwing fireballs at each other in the little apartment we had.
"We're all really competitive and try to out-do each other every time out. And that's filtered out to every starter we've got right now. It's been just a fun season so far and I can't see it changing anytime in the near future. There's some great chemistry. We all rag on each other, but encourage one another at the same time. It's been a really interesting season."
Just as with any minor-leaguer going through his first full year of professional ball, Bowman has experienced his highs and lows with the Bees.
Although his team experienced more than its fair share of success early on, and Bowman found himself on the winning side in many of his outings, he strived for more consistency on the mound. After hitting rock bottom in an outing against Wisconsin on May 21st (4 IP, 4ER, 6H), he has put together a steady run of success.
"I got some wins early on because our offense was pulling through big-time," Bowman said.
"But I was kind of nibbling and not really going after hitters. I had a real rough outing [against Wisconsin], and from there on I just decided to throw my best stuff at ‘em and what happens after that I can't control.
"In doing that, the biggest adjustment was not saving anything and leaving it all out there. That's not to say I wasn't being competitive at the beginning of the year, but it was more of just me nibbling at the corners instead of throwing my best stuff out there and letting it do its thing. I'm letting my defense work because we have some good gloves out there."
Bowman's "stuff" has remained consistent, as he's working in the low-90s with his fastball and continues to sharpen his curveball in side sessions with pitching coach Jimmy Escalante and A's roving minor league pitching instructor Gil Patterson.
"[Gil]'s trying to get that curveball a little bit tighter, an off-the-table one instead of a loopy one," Bowman said. "Gil's an awesome guy to work with that's really encouraging and builds you up."
Bowman hopes all of the hard work will pay off with a Midwest League championship, something he and Hassebrock have been aiming for since those highly competitive days of ping-pong baseball last summer.
"What we're excited about is the opportunity to maybe get a ring out of this thing," Bowman said.
"We want to take this team deep into the playoffs. We each had some fun stuff in college, but to have a championship with this awesome group of guys would be great. We want to remain competitive every time out there."