VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals and Cardinals square off again today, marking the third time in six days these two teams have seen each other.
This is what happens these days when your spring training facilities are on the east coast of Florida.
It’ll be Jordan Zimmermann getting the start for the Nationals, with an interesting group of pitchers following him to the mound: Rafael Soriano, Nathan Karns, Ryan Perry, Henry Rodriguez and Tyler Clippard.
Today will be Soriano’s second Grapefruit League appearance and the first for Rodriguez, who has been eased into action over the last month after having elbow surgery last summer and then experiencing some biceps tightness during throwing sessions this spring.
Manager Davey Johnson will likely hold Rodriguez to just one batter today.
I came into camp interested to see how Micah Owings, the former pitcher trying to make it back to the big leagues as a position player, would fare this spring. Unfortunately for Owings, he hasn’t gotten much of a chance to show his stuff over the last handful of weeks.
After needing to sit out a few days at the beginning of camp following a procedure in which a dye was injected into his elbow for MRI purposes, Owings started feeling some discomfort in his left wrist, which also sidelined him for some time.
The 6-foot-5 Owings has appeared in just three games this spring as a result, going 2-for-7 with a double, an RBI and a strikeout. Yesterday, Johnson put Owings in left field in the middle innings, marking Owings’ first outfield game experience this spring.
“I’m just getting him out there, I’m getting him on the field,” Johnson said. “I don’t have a whole lot of chance to get him playing time. ... He’s done a good job at first. Got a good break on the ball hit to him in left. But this is a big haul for him.”
It sure sounds like Owings’ time in major league camp might be running short, with Johnson unable to give him as many at-bats and defensive innings as he needs to work into form. At this point, or at least sometime in the near future, Owings might be better served getting in minor league games, where he can get 3-4 at-bats a game and see significant time at first base and the outfield.
Owings doesn’t have much game experience in the outfield - he played a handful of games out there in college and then got time in the outfield in two games this offseason while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico - but he’s trying to learn on the fly this spring. As the saying goes, the ball will always find you, and the first batter after Owings entered yesterday’s game ripped a line drive at Owings in left that he was able to track down.
“That was fun. Got my heart pumping a little bit, but that was fun,” Owings said. “I feel like just really focusing on tracking the ball, taking some pointers from these guys and not trying to over-think and just play. I think it’ll take a little bit of reps, but it’s enjoyable - other than those innings sure do last longer than when you’re a pitcher. It seems like you’re out there for a half-hour.
“It’s new to me, but I’m up for it. Whatever I can do to help the club, whatever I can do to get out on the field and play, have fun, I look forward to it.”
Owings has developed a relationship with Rick Ankiel, the current Astros outfielder who successfully made the transition from pitcher to position player himself. The two men got to briefly share a hug and a few words while Owings and the Nationals were stretching before yesterday’s game.
Ankiel had been trying to convince Owings to turn himself into a position player for some time now, and when the former National saw Owings yesterday, his first two words were, “About time.”
Owings knows he has a long road ahead of him, but he’s a very gifted hitter (he has a .283 lifetime average and an OPS of .813 in 219 big league plate appearances) and will have a shot at a comeback as long as he is able to continue producing with the bat.
“(The swing) feels good. I gotta just keep focusing, working,” he said. “They’re monitoring (the wrist) so I can’t do too much swinging, but I’m getting my swings in that I need. (I) just get ready whenever I get in the box and just compete.”