“He had a sneaky fastball. It rode up, broke through the zone,” said Nationals non-roster invitee, Chris Snyder, who caught Owings in Arizona. “He was a flyball pitcher, which can be tough to play in Arizona. But he’d compete. He fit in great in that rotation.”
Owings distinguished himself at the plate. “I consider myself a pretty good hitting pitcher, but he was unreal,” said Nationals starter Dan Haren, Owings’s teammate in 2007. “He was on a different level.”
Owings clobbered the ball every fifth day, and soon the Diamondbacks used him as a pinch hitter. In 2008, he pinch-hit 18 times and knocked six hits, including a double and a homer to the opposite field. One night in 2007, Owings started in Atlanta, his family and friends packing the park. He went 4 for 5 with two homers, both nearly landing in the upper deck, and six RBI. He also allowed three earned runs in seven innings and picked up the win.
“It was a good day for him,” Snyder said. “Deals on the mound. Hits two tanks with the bat. It was impressive.”
Haren faced Owings once. In team meetings, he would typically bypass the opposing pitcher. Maybe a coach would note his bunting ability, or say the pitcher could hit a little so keep it low and outside. Owings was different. “With him, it was a full-on scouting report,” Haren said. “We treated him like a hitter.”
In 2007 and 2008 combined, Owings received 126 plate appearances and hit .319/.355/.552 with a 126 OPS+, a statistic that measures a hitter’s performance relative to league standards and adjusts for ballpark effects. The two active players who have a career OPS+ of precisely 126 are Chase Utley and Adam Dunn.
“I think he had more power than anybody on our team, anybody in the starting lineup,” said the Nationals’ Chad Tracy, who played with Owings in Arizona. “He was a little raw, but when he caught one, he hit it a long way. And he could go the other way a long way, too. There was times when if we needed a big homer or something, we’d throw him in there just in case he touched one. If he touched it in the air, it was gone.”
Owings earned a special place in the league, but he never cemented himself as a starter. He has not closed the door on pitching, but also believes he will not miss it. His teammates are rooting for him. “Probably one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet,” Snyder said.
The Nationals’ depth will prevent him from challenging for a roster spot this spring, which he can handle. He wants to find out what else is inside him. He will walk to the field every day, ready to go to work.