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D-backs could get pitcher Owings more at-bats

D-backs could get pitcher Owings more at-bats

D-backs could get pitcher Owings more at-bats
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As he watched Micah Owings take batting practice Tuesday, D-backs general manager Kevin Towers could not help but wonder.

"He had some people scattering there beyond the left-field fence," Towers said. "He's a pretty impressive athlete. The ball has a different sound when it comes off his bat."

How to best utilize that bat, given that Owings is a pitcher, is one of the more intriguing storylines for the D-backs this spring.

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Owings was signed to a Minor League contract in January, with his primary duty to win a spot as the long reliever in the Arizona bullpen. Because he has shown he can hit Major League pitching, the D-backs are also looking at the possibility of using him as a pinch-hitter or even getting him some time at first base.

The more action the better as far as Owings is concerned.

"It's really so outside the box in this game for so long, there's going to be a lot of people that think it can be done, but probably equally if not more that say it's a crazy thought," he said.

"It's about being open and creating an opportunity and putting the effort and everything I can into figuring out the balance. Let's get into it and see where it goes. I don't think there's a magic formula or anything set in stone as to how it works."

Drafted by the D-backs in the third round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, Owings was a key contributor when Arizona won 90 games and the National League West in 2007.

On the mound that year, Owings went 8-8 with a 4.30 ERA in 29 games (27 starts), and he picked up a crucial win in the season's final week when he made an emergency start against the Pirates in place of Brandon Webb.

What got just as much, if not more, attention that year was what Owings did with a bat in his hands.

Owings won the NL Silver Slugger Award for pitchers in 2007 by hitting .333 with four home runs in just 60 at-bats.

By far his most impressive game that year was Aug. 18, when he picked up the win by allowing three runs over seven innings while striking out seven and not issuing a walk. At the plate, he was 4-for-5 with a pair of mammoth home runs, a double, four runs scored and six RBIs.

Owings struggled in 2008 and wound up being dealt to the Reds as the player to be named later in the deal that brought Adam Dunn to Arizona.

It was a rough go of it for Owings in Cincinnati, as he posted an ERA of 5.34 in 2009 and 5.40 in '10.

Last season was particularly tough on him as he got infrequent work as a long man in the Reds' bullpen.

"The long-relief role is challenging, really challenging, especially last year with having long amounts of time off and trying to stay sharp as you can competition wise," Owings said. "Physically, you're ready, but competition wise, it's a whole different story when you're throwing sides and then out in game situations."

When the D-backs expressed interest in having him fill the long relief role, Owings said he was hesitant but had a change of heart after speaking with Towers and manager Kirk Gibson.

"If you ask me, I think it's the toughest role in baseball, especially from a pitcher's standpoint," Owings said of pitching in long relief. "It's comforting to know talking to [Gibson] and [Towers] that they're not going to let a guy sit down there eight, 10 days and not get an inning in just to stay sharp. That was a huge attraction knowing that."

While the idea of Owings being a weapon both at the plate and on the mound is an intriguing one for the D-backs, they've made it clear where his first priority needs to be.

"I want him throwing the ball good, No. 1," Gibson said. "First and foremost, I want him to have value as a pitcher -- the other is a bonus. I know he can hit a fastball over the plate. Ideally he's a huge right-handed bat off the bench with power. Can he adjust to breaking balls and be more of a hitter? That's something I'll give him the chance to prove."

Owings has taken some ground balls at first, a position he has not played since college, and the club will give him some innings at first this spring to see how he fares.

"He looked good, he looked very good," Gibson said after watching Owings take grounders.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @dbackswriter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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