LAWRENCEVILLE — It may be a surprise to many the Cincinnati Reds were in first place of the National League’s Central division heading into the All-Star break, but Micah Owings expected them to be where they are now — just a game behind division leaders St. Louis.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Owings, a 2002 Gainesville High grad who set state records for home runs in a career (69) and season (25) while with the Red Elephants. “After the All-Star break last season, we were right there with the Yankees for the best record in baseball. Coming in to spring training, we were talking about competing every day and where we wanted to be long-term. With the group this organization put together, I’m not surprised we’re here.”
On Friday, Owings was sent from the Reds to their Triple-A affiliate, the Louisville Bats, to shake off the rust of not pitching in 16 days. He hasn’t been called to the mound by the big league club because of Cincinnati’s strong starting pitching recently, and because of time away for the All-Star break.
The Bats are currently in Lawrenceville for a four-game series against the Gwinnett Braves, during which Owings is staying at his Gainesville home.
Though Owings said no big leaguer ever wants to be sent to the minors, he’s taking a positive approach to his demotion, looking at it as an opportunity to get some consistent work on the mound and, while the team is in town, spend time with his friends and family.
He’ll take the mound on Sunday, with the first pitch scheduled for 2:05 p.m.
“It would be great to get the Gainesville community out here to the park and have a good time with it,” Owings said.
Owings admitted he doesn’t know how long his stint with the Bats will last, but Louisville manager Rick Sweet said he expected Owings to make a couple of starts as a tune-up for a return to Cincinnati. Before his demotion, Owings was 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 25 walks in 22 relief appearances.
Playing for the Reds reminds Owings of what it’s like to compete for a winning organization.
“I tell you, just going neck and neck with the Cardinals has been great,” he said. “We’re well past the halfway mark of the season, so just to come out and compete on a winning team every day has been fun. I was fortunate in ’07 to go to the NLCS (as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks) and play against Rockies, so to get that taste and then be there with this club, it’s about competing with great players, going out and having fun.
While he’s with Louisville, he said he plans to spend quality time with his Bats teammates talking about the long-term outlook for the team because he believes “there are a lot of players here that will help the organization very soon,” he said.
He’s prepared to help the big league team any way he can, whether it’s to keep a game close out of the bullpen, pick up a spot start or even pinch-hit. He’s the best hitting pitcher in the majors with 10 home runs since 2007, including one this year.
The Reds are shooting for their first playoff appearance since 1995, when they were swept by the Braves in four games as Atlanta went on to win its only World Series title by beating Cleveland in six games.
Owings would like to be a part of Cincinnati’s run.
“My ultimate goal is to be consistent,” he said. “Whenever I get an opportunity, I want to do the best I can. Whatever is asked of me, there is nothing like winning and being a part of a winning team is rare.
“I want to enjoy it and have fun.”