Owings has sights set on fifth spot
Right-hander looks to hit Spring Training audition out of the park
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Because he has yet to pitch an inning since his August trade from the Diamondbacks, many Reds fans mostly know Micah Owings for his reputation as a good-hitting pitcher.
They envision the next coming of Rick Ankiel, the Cardinals' pitcher-turned-everyday star outfielder.
But unlike Ankiel, who scrapped his pitching career entirely to wield a bat full time, Owings plans on being healthy and on the mound for the Reds this year. And he hopes it's every fifth day.
The 26-year-old Owings is one of the myriad candidates for the Reds' fifth starter spot in the rotation.
"My whole life I've been treated as a pitcher and then a hitter," said Owings, a .319 hitter with five home runs in 116 career big league at-bats. "So I kind of think that since I've made it to the big leagues, it's kind of been the opposite. I consider it as a compliment and respectful. By no means do I take it as a knock on my pitching. But that's what I'm here to do and that's what my focus is going to be. Hitting is just a plus."
When Owings came over from Arizona in September as a player to be named in the trade for Adam Dunn, he wasn't pitching because of a right shoulder injury. Healthy by the time he joined Cincinnati, the decision was made at that late point in the season to shut the right-hander down. It gave him ample time to become completely healed.
So far in camp, there have been no issues from throwing.
"That's the most important thing right now that I'm feeling good," Owings said. "I threw a couple of 'pens before I came down. I'm starting to feel like I can cut it loose again. After going down with strain last year, you kind of think about how you might come back."
Reds manager Dusty Baker watched Owings throw in the bullpen for the first time on Monday. Baker and general manager Walt Jocketty will have to decide between Owings, Homer Bailey, Daryl Thompson, Ramon Ramirez and Nick Masset for the fifth spot in the rotation.
"We only faced him one time on any team I was on," Baker said. "The main thing is if he's healthy, pain-free and no restrictions. That's what I was looking for. I was looking to see if he had a different arm slot. He looked good. He has late life [on his pitches], which is a great sign."
During his 2007 rookie season with Arizona, Owings was 8-8 with a 4.30 ERA in 29 games and his career seemed poised for takeoff. He began last season 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA over his first four starts.
Overall, Owings was 6-9 with a 5.93 ERA in 22 games, including 18 starts, with 41 walks and 87 strikeouts. He went 0-6 over his last seven starts, which earned him a demotion to Triple-A Tucson. There were only two more starts before the shoulder injury stopped him altogether.
"I'd love to say all of it was [the injury]," Owings said of his performance slide. "But it's hard to look back and put your finger on things. I think it was an accumulation of things. Hopefully, I've grown and learned a lot about not thinking about too many things I can't control. I'll focus on the field and remind myself to focus on the things that I can control and do the best there."
Should Owings not make the rotation, working as a long reliever is another option at the Reds' disposal. No starter wants to toil in a bullpen, but diplomatically, Owings rules out nothing and welcomes whatever comes his way.
"Anytime I get the ball, I will do the best that I can," he said. "I've been through it in a similar situation in Arizona. It's something I don't think about. I'm going to go out and compete out on the field. There are a lot of great arms here but I'm not going to compete against them. Bake said it best the other day that we're all in this together."