Micah Owings, the pitcher-turned-position player, has, perhaps, the most interesting story in camp. The right-hander joined the select few who have attempted the full-time switch in the major leagues. He always had the reputation as a hitting pitcher, and so far in camp, he has looked liked a hitter who used to pitch.
In a 6-3 win Thursday over the Houston Astros, he played left field again and then crushed an opposite field grand slam on an outside pitch from John Ely. It was his second home run of the spring. In 19 at-bats, Owings, who missed some time with a wrist injury, is hitting .368 with three doubles and eight RBI. While he won’t exactly admit it, Owings has some early proof that perhaps he made the right decision in make the switch.
“I’m up for the task,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of continued work. I don’t think I ever want to get to a mode where I feel comfortable so I want to continue to work and learn from these guys and see what happens. … I’m still learning myself and I’m trying to learn from the guys around me who’ve been doing it for a while.”
Said Manager Davey Johnson: “He’s shown this spring and had improvements since day one. He’s had more quality at-bats as the more at-bats he’s got. He’s had an impressive spring.”
Owings spent time during camp taking grounders at first base but recently has been playing left field, a new experience for him. The Georgia native worked with his brother, Jon Mark, a former Atlanta Braves farmhand, during the offseason to ensure that he was putting his front foot down before swinging. He has talked with hitting coach Rick Eckstein about hitting the ball where it’s pitched.
Despite Owing’s feel-good story, he won’t make the Nationals opening day roster. But because of his strong performance, Johnson believes Owings will serve as part of the team’s depth in Class AAA Syracuse. He could serve as a right-handed bat off the bench, either at first base or in the outfield. Johnson said he even talked with Syracuse Manager Tony Beasley about getting Owings plenty of at-bats this upcoming season despite a crowded outfield of prospects and Chris Marrero at first base. Johnson said Owings may even get noticed by rival teams.
“We’re not at that point coming off as division champs, we don’t have the luxury to get him the opportunity to do that in that role up here,” Johnson said. “He’s going to have to continue during the season showing that he’s capable He may open some eyes from some clubs, a veteren right-handed bat coming off the bench. He’s certainly got the power and he’s shown he can make more contact.”
Owings isn’t thinking about his future or where he play this season, but is glad to still be in camp with the Nationals and getting time to showcase his skills.
“When I came in, I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I kind of followed a prompting within my gut to go down this path and I’m grateful for the Nationals to give me this opportunity.
>>> Wilson Ramos caught four innings in his first back-to-back start of the spring and again looked agile. He beat out an infield single in the fourth inning.
“He’s been running hard to first,” Ramos said. “He was saying, ‘With all that weight loss I should be able to leg out a couple hits this year.’ He was feeling really good where he was at, and I am, too.”
Per Johnson’s offer, while the Nationals are in Jupiter to face the Cardinals, Ramos will go to minor league camp and serve as the designated hitter in games.
>>> Ryan Zimmerman continues to show no ill effects of offseason shoulder surgery at the plate: he is hitting .500 (11 for 22) following a 2 for 3 game.
>>> Tyler Clippard, who started appearing in games later this spring than his teammates by design, pitched yet another scoreless inning, and hasn’t allowed a run in five appearances. In fact, he hasn’t allowed a hit. “Clip doesn’t need [the work],” Johnson said. “He’s about ready.”
>>> Rafael Soriano allowed his first spring runs, a two-run home run to Nate Freiman on a high fastball. The rest of his outing was sharp, particularly his breaking balls. Zach Duke walked a batter, allowed a steal and then made a fielding error on a routine comebacker to the mound in the fifth, but got out of the inning with no runs scoring. He pitched two scoreless innings.
>>> Christian Garcia with travel to Baltimore on Sunday to visit hand specialist Ken Means. The right-hander won’t resume throwing until he medically cleared.