Is a Call Up on the Horizon for Owens?

With the struggles of both Brad Lincoln and Kevin Correia in their 8-6 and 7-1 losses to the Baltimore Orioles, rumors are floating around that AAA pitcher Rudy Owens could be recalled an take a rotation spot. The starting pitching has been a strong suit for the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing 3.60 runs to score per game, ranking third lowest in the National League, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals. But they have to be good if the Pirates want to be successful, receiving just 3.2 runs behind them per nine innings the starters pitch. Correia and Lincoln, when starting, have allowed 4.87 runs per game, combined, which would rank second highest in the Majors as a team ERA.

Owens, who is currently ranked the 15th best prospect in the Pirates system by Baseball Prospectus, has been dominant at AAA Indianapolis this season. In 12 starts, Owens has an ERA of just 2.29, leading the International League among players with at least ten starts. After his stock dropped after struggling last year, his first year in AAA, raising his ERA from 2.46 with Altoona to 5.05, he appears to have adjusted to triple-A batters. A feature of Owens’ skill set is his ability to avoid walks, despite not being a strikeout pitcher. With AA Altoona in 2010, Owens had a walk rate of 1.4 walks per nine innings, which was second in the Eastern League. Although a lack of command plagued Owens with Indianapolis last season, raising his BB/9 ratio to 2.6, he is third in the International League in that statistic, walking only 1.3 batters per nine innings. In the last ten of Owens’ 12 starts, he has an ERA of 1.89 through 66.2 innings pitched, limiting opposing batters to hitting .225 off of him.

Another call up possibility for the Pirates is left handed pitcher Jeff Locke. While not having nearly as much success as Owens, Locke has still been effective this season, having a 3.27 ERA through 11 starts. The Pirates also toyed with the idea of calling up Locke late in 2011 as part of the MLB roster expansion in September, starting him four times and putting up with his 6.48 ERA before the season ended. Locke was acquired in a June 2009 trade which sent Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves, as the Pirates received Charlie Morton and Gorkys Hernandez, as well as Locke, in return.

With both Correia and Lincoln, the Pirates have a tough decision to make. For Correia, do you put him in the bullpen, where he hasn’t been bad in his career, tossing a 4.20 FIP over 127 relief appearances, but he hasn’t relieved ten games or more since 2007? With Lincoln, do you try converting him in to a more successful starter, perhaps not shaving a full mile an hour off of his fastball from his appearances out of the pen, or do you keep him in the bullpen where he’s had success? It’s a lot on the Pirates’ plate, and hopefully they make the right decision.

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