Last week Rudy Owens made his minor league debut, shortly after Ross Ohlendorf was placed on the disabled list. Owens started off strong, pitching seven innings, and allowing one run on seven hits, with no walks and five strikeouts. At the time, the Pirates were deciding between Jeff Karstens, Brian Burres, and Brad Lincoln to replace Ohlendorf in the rotation. Charlie at Bucs Dugout suggested at the time that Owens should have gotten the call over Karstens, Burres, and Lincoln.
Since that time, Owens has followed up with another strong start, this time going 6.1 innings, allowing a run on three hits, with two walks and three strikeouts. He carried a no hitter in to the sixth inning, and overcame two errors. Also since that time, Ross Ohlendorf’s recovery time has been pushed back a month, which means it could be mid-May until he returns.
I agree with Charlie’s general idea that Owens is a better option than Karstens, Burres, and Lincoln, and I’d also like to see him in the rotation. However, when he arrives in the rotation, I want to see him there for good. I don’t want to see Owens called up for a few starts, only to be sent back to AAA when Ohlendorf returns.
As far as service time, we’ve already passed the point where Owens wouldn’t accumulate a full year of service time in 2011, which means the Pirates could call him up today, and have him under control through the 2017 season. There’s also the Super Two status to consider. If the Pirates called up Owens now, he would almost certainly be a Super Two player after the 2013 season. Charlie points out that the rule could change this off-season, although until the rule actually does change, I wouldn’t make moves with the assumption that Super Two won’t be a factor.
Owens definitely has the performance, even if it’s only been two starts at the AAA level. He’s passed the point where the Pirates can have him for over six years of control. The only question for me is, how can he enter the rotation and be assured of a spot for good?
The current rotation hasn’t been the disaster that everyone predicted heading in to the season. Charlie Morton has been a big surprise so far, and Kevin Correia is showing that his signing was a good move for the Pirates this off-season. Paul Maholm had a bad home opener, partially due to his defense, but has been strong in his other two starts. The two pitchers that are struggling right now are James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf, who were the top two pitchers, statistically, from the 2010 rotation.
I think it’s a little too early to worry about McDonald, just like it would be too early to call Morton an ace. If McDonald is still struggling a month from now, I’d be concerned. As for Ohlendorf, I’ve been concerned about him since before his poor Spring Training performances. His injury now creates a spot for Owens, and it’s not exactly a short term spot if he’s going to be out for another month.
A lot of things can happen between now and the middle of May. A starter could get hurt, McDonald could continue to struggle, and/or one of the Correia/Morton/Maholm trio could reverse their early season numbers. You could call Owens up now, and he’d stand a pretty good chance of sticking in the rotation. Worst case scenario, Ohlendorf returns with Owens having success in the majors, and you put Ohlendorf in the bullpen to try and work his problems out from there. That wouldn’t be a bad problem to have, since it assumes there would be no other obvious spots in the rotation in mid-May.
Whether you call Owens up right now depends on your approach to the Super Two status. Personally, I’d rather see Brad Lincoln get the call first. This accomplishes three things. First, it gives Lincoln another shot at the majors. Second, it delays the arbitration clock for Owens. Third, and this might be the most important thing, it gives Owens more time in AAA. He’s been great in two starts, but it’s only been two starts. I’d like to see him pitch like this for at least a month, before moving him up to the next level.