Owings out to prove worth as pitcher
Righty can hit, but focused on gaining consistency on hill
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Micah Owings doesn't want to just be a novelty -- a big league pitcher that's more known in the game for being a very capable hitter.Owings wants to show the Reds he can be a successful pitcher -- first, foremost and always. The past two seasons, it's been a label he's had trouble earning. "Up until pro ball, I was always respected as a pitcher and it kind of flipped the script," Owings said. "I'm really focusing on what I can do on the mound. The bat is a plus. It's still something I work on, but I'm keying on more pitching-wise." Owings, 27, finds himself back in the exact same situation he was in at this time last year. The right-hander is part of a vast group of contenders vying for the fifth spot in the Reds' rotation. It was the job he won in 2009 with a great camp, but also a job he lost during a lackluster regular season. In 26 games overall last season, Owings was 7-12 with a 5.34 ERA, including 6-11 with a 5.74 ERA in 19 starts. Over his final four starts before being moved to the bullpen, he was 0-4 with a 10.90 ERA. What hurt Owings, and the Reds, the most was his inability to economize pitches, throw strikes and go deep into games. Only two of his starts lasted seven innings. "The focus has to be on throwing strikes, getting ahead of hitters and not messing around once I get ahead," Owings said. "We have a great defense and I have to trust them. How many Gold Gloves do we have? We have a fast outfield. Both of our catchers are back." Since the season ended, Owings benefited from the familiarity of old mentors. First he went back home to Georgia and worked with his high school pitching coach, former big leaguer Cris Carpenter. The two watched video and talked about Owings' approach to games. "I just learned the process I need to go through when I throw in the bullpen," Owings said. "He's a dear friend and a guy I will communicate with and he helped me simplify things." That's exactly what new Reds pitching coach Bryan Price is also seeking. Price was Owings' coach in Arizona in 2007-08, and has witnessed the hurler's better days first-hand. "This is a guy that pitched some of the biggest games for us in 2007 in Arizona -- games we had to win," Price said. "He did it with his arm. He did it with his defense. He did it with his bat. He gave us big games."
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The two men had a good working relationship, especially during Owings' rookie year in 2007. That season he was 8-8 with a 4.30 ERA, but was among rookie leaders with 106 strikeouts in 152 2/3 innings and 14 quality starts.In 2008, Owings began 4-0 in four starts, but slipped to 6-9 with a 5.93 ERA before he was demoted to Triple-A. By August, he was traded to the Reds in the Adam Dunn deal. "Micah has always been a guy that wants to accumulate information," Price said. "For some guys, that's terrific. For other guys, it's overload. He got to the point where he was trying to absorb so much information that it became mental overload. We're trying to simplify it -- our game plan, our goals and let his natural aggression take care of the pitching part of his job." "He's a great pitching coach and a great guy to relate to when I got to spend time with him in Arizona," Owings said of Price. "He gets serious when it's time to get serious, but he'll also cut up with you. He treats each pitcher as an individual and tries to help him as much as he can. He's great with going through scouting reports every game, and that wasn't just for me." Owings is competing against Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman for the fifth spot, along with Justin Lehr, Matt Maloney, Travis Wood, Mike Lincoln and Kip Wells. For Owings, last season's results could follow him in the decision-making process regarding the fifth spot. So could his hitting ability. As a starting pitcher, he could pinch-hit between starts. But as a reliever, he could pinch-hit and remain in the game as a long reliever -- which would preserve the bullpen because Owings can bat for himself the next time around. Lifetime, Owings is a .300 hitter with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. He hit three homers for the Reds last season, including one vs. the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth that sent a game into extra innings. The team's best right-handed pinch-hitter at times, he also won an April game vs. the Astros with a pinch-hit, two-run double. There was a danger to exposing a pitcher to hitting. On Sept. 6 at Atlanta, Owings was beaned by a pitch and sustained a perforated eardrum. He appeared in only three more games the rest of the season. "This guy is completely 100 percent invested in being a pitcher," Price said. "The fact that he can hit and add value to the team from an offensive perspective, forces you to acknowledge the need for him to work on it." Owings never complained about being demoted to a bullpen role last season, and he is willing to think big picture should it happen to him again after the spring competition sorts itself out. "I take the standpoint of whatever I can do to help these guys and the team," he said. "I'm looking long term. I don't just want to be here one year and the next year. I want to get to a consistency point where I can stick around for 10-15 years."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.