Tucson's Owings quickly finds his stride

Right-hander caps brilliant season with Bricktown Showdown start

(Tucson Sidewinders)

By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com | September 18, 2006 3:47 PM ET

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Usually when a two-way star comes out of high school or college and is asked to focus on one skill, it takes a while for him to develop. Organizations are generally patient, knowing it's the first time the player has concentrated on just pitching or hitting, but not both.

For Micah Owings, a two-way star chosen by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the third round of the 2005 draft, "a while" evidently means less than a year. In 2005, he used his arm and his bat to help Tulane make a run at the College World Series. This year, it was mostly his arm that helped the Tucson Sidewinders win the Pacific Coast League title.

"I had heard coming in how long the pro season was," Owings said the day before getting the ball as Tucson's starter in the Bricktown Showdown. "Maybe it's because we've been having so much fun, but it's gone fast for me."

Personal success certainly hasn't hurt his transition. Splitting the year between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Tucson, Owings went a combined 16-2 with a 3.33 ERA during the regular season and has yet to lose a Triple-A decision. The 23-year-old right-hander has made two starts in the postseason, and though he has no record to show for it, he has a 1.35 ERA over 13 1/3 innings. And the Sidewinders went on to win both of his starts.

Even beyond the impressive win-loss totals, there's a lot to like about Owings' season. Even when he struggled and got fatigued at certain points during the season, he still managed to find ways to win, as evidenced by his 4-0 record despite a 5.91 ERA in July.

"I think he hit that wall a couple of times," Tucson manager Chip Hale said. "But he's done well going out there without having his best stuff. He deserved to get the ball for this game."

Owings, who bounced back by going 3-0 with a 2.19 ERA in five August starts, credits his offense for keeping him in those games. He also points to the routine he's been able to follow for most of the year to get him ready to pitch every fifth day. That's come in particularly handy as he's tried to adjust to not playing every day as a position player, as he did at Tulane when he wasn't pitching.

"Last year, when I was just pitching for the first time, it was tough after playing every day for the past 20 years of my life," Owings admitted. "I wish I could still be doing both, but I realize that's a rarity in today's game."

Not that Owings has forgotten how to swing the bat. In the Pacific Coast League, pitchers do get to hit when games are played at a National League-affiliated ballpark. In 37 at-bats with Tucson, Owings hit .405 and drove in six runs. (He hit .273 with a homer and seven RBIs in 22 at-bats with Double-A Tennessee.) He may not get to hit every day, but it's clear Owings isn't through with being a double threat.

"When he's in the lineup, he's a real No. 9 hitter," Hale said. "Actually, he may be a real No. 5 or 6 hitter when he's in there."

There even have been some instances of him hitting in American League parks. When the club was in Sacramento (Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A's) and the team was a little short-handed, Hale let Owings hit for himself instead of using a designated hitter. He responded by going 3-for-4.

In the Bricktown Showdown, however, the DH will be used, so Owings won't get a chance to dig into the box.

"I was a little disappointed," Owings said. "Why can't we do it like we did vs. Sacramento?"

"I think we're all kind of disappointed," Tucson catcher Robby Hammock quipped.

"I don't know who's DHing for us, but I'm sure he'll get the job done," Owings quickly added.

That's how Owings is: quick to deflect praise and sure to point out the success of others. That, as much as anything, has helped him make the transition from two-way player to a pitcher who happens to hit well. It's also clearly aided him in dealing with all the success he's had so quickly.

"You try not to come in with expectations," Owings said. "At the same time, you can use those expectations or goals to motivate yourself. This year has far exceeded those expectations. I've just really enjoyed it."

There have been discussions internally about what Owings' future role might be. Clearly, he's earned the right to continue starting, but there are those who feel his future may be in the bullpen. Owings did just that last summer after being drafted and showed he could handle it, posting a 2.45 ERA and striking out 30 batters in 22 innings for Class A Advanced Lancaster of the California League.

Owings is taking his future on the mound the same way he took the move to being a pitcher exclusively: as a team player who'll do whatever the organization asks of him.

"I'd like to start as long as I can," Owings said. "But it's not my decision, just like it wasn't my decision about pitching or hitting after I was drafted. Whenever they hand me the ball, I'll do my best."

But if the chance should arise and the Diamondbacks need someone to grab a bat even if he's not on the mound, Owings will be the first to volunteer.

"It's always been my passion, my dream, to play baseball in the big leagues," Owings said. "Being able to pitch and hit has been my passion too. If I got the opportunity to do both, I'd jump at the chance."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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