Owings feels strong spring validated change to position player

If Micah Owings had any doubts at all that he’d made the right decision by opting to become a position player after six big league seasons as a pitcher, those doubts were erased this spring.

Owings came into camp knowing he had a tough task ahead of him as he pursued a bit of a career change, putting aside bullpen sessions and instead working on getting reads on fly balls in the outfield and fine-tuning his hitting.

It was unlikely Owings would be able to crack the Nationals’ opening day 25-man roster, both because of his inexperience playing in the field and because the Nats pretty much had all their bench spots locked up before camp began. That’s how things ended up playing out, as Owings was told Thursday that he was being reassigned to minor league camp and would open the season at Triple-A Syracuse.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Owings had enough success as a position player that it validated his decision to make the switch.

“There’s no question that I feel like this pursuit, from the nudging that I had to go down this path and down this route, I’m happy about it and wouldn’t change it at all,” Owings said the afternoon before he was sent to the minor league side. “The game’s been fun. Too many times in my career, it hasn’t been fun. So (I’ll) do the best that I can to keep the game fun, come out, have a good time with the guys and smile as much as you can.

“You’re going to go through ups and downs, but it’s gone back to it being the same game I grew up loving to play and still love to play today.”

Over 33 at-bats this spring, Owings showed off the offensive potential that his teammates and scouts had raved about over his years as a pitcher.

Owings batted .324 this spring with a .959 OPS. He clubbed two home runs (including a grand slam March 14 against the Astros), and drove in 10, impressing Nationals manager Davey Johnson in the process.

“For him, it’s a whole new thing,” Johnson said. “I like his bat potential, but he just needs to go play. We have a need for him at Syracuse, and he’ll get a lot of playing time. But he’s a strong hitter and he’s a pretty smart hitter. He was sitting on a breaking ball the other day, and he crushed it. But he’s had a good spring.

“I think mentally, he’s really close (to being major league ready). I think it’s more the physical thing, the pounding of everyday (work). His right quad has been giving him a little problem pretty much all spring. He’s been moving OK, but there’s a big difference between playing every day and getting your reps and how your body holds up. He’s a good athlete, so I think he’ll be fine. But he needs to get into that routine as quick as he can.”

Owings might be completely comfortable when he’s in the batter’s box, but less so in the outfield. He had minimal experience there coming into this year, having gotten some previous time at first base, but put in a lot of work this spring with first base coach Tony Tarasco, who also instructs the outfielders.

“I think given the opportunities that I’ve had there so far, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable,” Owings said. “If I’m out there, I’m going to do the best that I can to support the team and a pitcher. I know what it’s like on the mound to have plays made behind you, and I’l take that mentality that any ball I can get to and track down, or throw somebody out, I’m going to do my best to do that and help the club and help the pitcher.”

Now Owings will go up to Syracuse and continue to plug away, hoping for a call that could bring him back to the majors, this time in a much different role than when he last saw big league action.

“I’ll stay ready for whatever I can to help and contribute,” Owings said. “It’s a long season, so you see a lot of things happen over the course of the season. We’ll see what happens.”

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