Owings wants notice for his pitching
Hot-hitting right-hander aiming to make Padres staff
PEORIA, Ariz. -- In his first Spring Training camp with the Padres, Micah Owings brings with him versatility that could have him starting or relieving come Opening Day. He also brings a healthy dose of Major League perspective earned the last few years from experiences both good and bad.
Oh, and yes, of course he brings his bat, the most dangerous one being swung by a pitcher in the Majors today.
Owings' well-documented prowess as a hitter -- a .286 average, .808 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and nine homers since his debut in 2007 -- is another plus, but it's down the list in terms of the right-hander being a contributor for the Padres in 2012.
"Hitting's secondary. This guy's a pitcher. His focus is on trying to make this team as a pitcher," Padres manager Bud Black said.
Indeed, hitting is secondary for Owings as well. Frankly, he says, there are times when his quality work with the bat gets in the way of people recognizing that his job is to pitch, and he has done it well.
"Sometimes, I take it respectfully because I do take a lot of pride in being able to help at the plate," Owings said. "But at the same time it gets old, because as hard as I've worked on the mound, it takes away from that. The success I had last year kind of falls underneath when you continue to just hear about the bat and things like that."
After some ups and downs the last few years, Owings can take the sometimes misplaced notoriety about his bat in stride, knowing that he's in a good place in his career now with the Padres.
Owings pitched two strong innings Thursday against the Giants, allowing just one hit while striking out two batters. That keeps him on track to be stretched out as a starter, but he might make the team as a reliever instead.
He'd like to start, but he'd be happy to do either.
"I try not to go there; I just try to come out and make the most of the opportunities I've been given," Owings said. "That's been my focus the last few years, and depending on what my role is just do the best I can to help the club."
Said Black: "The thing that he brings to the table is the versatility: able to start, able to relieve, resilient arm, all the intangibles a competitive player brings, he has all that."
Having signed as a free agent this offseason on a one-year deal worth $1 million, Owings was reunited with general manager Josh Byrnes and assistant GM A.J. Hinch, who were in the Arizona front office when Owings came up through the D-backs system.
While that familiarity might have helped bring him to San Diego, Owings knows it's on him to deliver the goods now that he's here.
"Them knowing me definitely weighed into my decision and obviously I'm familiar with this team having come from Arizona," Owings said. "But this is a game that you can never get comfortable, either. I feel like times I have maybe in the past, I've learned from and I just continue to focus on this day and go from there."
Owings learned some of that from the September 2008 trade that sent him to Cincinnati, a trade he didn't accept without some hard feelings. After some success and some shoulder problems, his stint with the Reds essentially ended when he was designated for assignment in August 2010, clearing waivers and accepting an assignment to the Minors.
But after signing a Minor League deal with the D-backs prior to last season, Owings won all eight of his decisions -- three as a starter and five as a reliever -- while helping Arizona reach the Division Series, where he won Game 4 against Milwaukee with two shutout innings.
"Last year he was a big contributor for a playoff team," Byrnes said. "He's shown he can help a team either as a starter or a reliever."
Where that versatility takes Owings with the Padres remains to be seen.
"We're going to be open-minded about where we want him to help us," Byrnes said. "Obviously, we have some young starters and we want to get their feet wet in the big leagues. Micah doesn't have traditional starter stuff -- he uses a lot of fastballs. But he's a determined pitcher, he fields his position well and he does a lot of things to help you win a game."
Of course, that includes potential to swing the bat, whether it's getting a few at-bats a game as a starter or leaving Owings in as a long reliever and not having to burn another hitter.
"That's a nice bat, it really is. I know from the other side. Hey, listen, I didn't like it when he was in the box," Black said of Owings, who is 11-for-45 with two homers as a pinch-hitter for his career.
That said, Owings is a pitcher first and a hitter second. But he's really a ballplayer, above all.
"Whatever opportunity I can have to help the club win, I want to provide that," Owings said. "I want to be a part of winning. That's why we all play the game."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.