It was only 35 pitches, but for Micah Owings, they were some of the biggest pitches of his long professional baseball career.
They were also the first pitches he's thrown in more than two years.
During the York Revolution's 9-3 loss to the Sugar Land Skeeters on Sunday afternoon at PeoplesBank Park, Owings returned from a litany of injuries that kept him out of baseball for the past two years. It was a brief outing, and if you showed up late to the ballpark, chances are you probably missed him. He started Sunday's game, lasting just two innings, throwing just the 35 pitches. York manager Mark Mason said he was on a fairly strict limit of 50 pitches, but after the second inning, with the cold weather and tightness setting in, Owings elected to pull himself from the game, giving the bullpen a chance to come in and start with a clean inning ahead.
"After the second inning, we were going to run him out for a third, but with the cold weather, he started to feel a little tight," Mason said. "He didn't want to push it and he didn't want to just go out and face one or two hitters (in the third) and then have a bullpen guy come in and bail him out. He was thinking of them coming in and having a clean inning."
Owings was not available for comment following the game.
Big league pitcher: Owings was, without a doubt, one of the most high-profile signings the Revs (5-6) made in the offseason, doing so just days before the 2016 Atlantic League season began. As a big leaguer, Owings was about as versatile as they come. He was an average MLB pitcher, but one who served a purpose in the National League as a much-better-than-average hitting pitcher.
As a pitcher, he had a 32-33 record with a 4.86 ERA in 138 appearances, 68 as a starter. However, he's a .283 career hitter with nine home runs and 35 RBIs at the big league level, which is why he hung around at the game's highest level from 2007-12, pitching and playing the field for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres. Yet, after signing a minor-league deal in 2014, he made just two starts for Jacksonville, the Miami Marlins' Class AA team, before having to step away with a series of injuries to his wrist, lats and back.
So, Sunday's game at PeoplesBank Park was his first step in a long road back.
The start: The first batter Owings faced on Sunday walked on six pitches. It wasn't an ideal start, but it instantly put Owings in a spot where he had to make some pitches. He answered the call, retiring the next three batters, stranding the leadoff man on second base after a passed ball put him in scoring position.
By the second, his command was better, allowing just a single and nothing more. There were times when he showed glimpses of his big-league potential, throwing 20 strikes and striking out one.
"He hadn't seen hitters in a while, so I think he was a little tentative," Mason said. "But, I thought he threw the ball really well in the second inning."
The only downfall to Owings' short outing was he forced Mason to extend his already-depleted bullpen. With four guys unavailable heading into the game, Mason had to work some magic with the guys he had. Daniel Carela pitched two scoreless innings in the third and fourth, striking out four. Ricardo Gomez gave up a run in the fifth and then Ron Schreurs gave up two in the sixth, resulting in a 3-3 tie after six. Wes Alsup pitched two scoreless frames in the seventh and eighth, before Michael Click gave up six runs in the top of the ninth, including a grand slam to Jeremy Barfield, to take the loss.
The Revs scored all three of their runs in the bottom of the second, but couldn't keep the hot bats going the rest of the game, squandering a bases-loaded, one-out chance in the bottom of the fourth.
Looking ahead: Despite the loss, the day was still about the 2,012 fans at the game having a chance to see a former big league pitcher make his return.
With two innings now behind him, the next step for Owings is to continue to increase his pitch count in each start until he's 100 percent and can attempt to give the team what's expected out of a starter every time he takes the ball.
"We'd like to keep pushing him up there more every time," Mason said about his future pitch counts. "The next time he'll probably go out there for the third inning, but that's the first time and it was cold and when you have injuries in the back where you can't extend when you throw and it's cold, you tighten up pretty fast. ... But, I would think we'll get his pitch count up there a little more next time."
The loss resulted in a split of the four-game series against Sugar Land. York will now play four games against the Bridgeport Bluefish over the next three days, beginning with Monday's game at 6:30 p.m. at PeoplesBank Park.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com