Owings stellar as D-backs stay on top

Owings stellar as D-backs stay on top

PHOENIX -- The last time through the rotation, Micah Owings had his turn skipped because of a couple of poor outings, but manager Bob Melvin said before Tuesday night's game that he "expected [Owings] to respond."

That's just what Owings did. Emphatically.

The rookie right-hander tossed a two-hitter for his first career shutout as the D-backs beat the Giants, 5-0, in front of 44,220 at Chase Field.

"It's pretty remarkable," said Melvin, "based on the turn off and the struggles the two times before. He's a tough kid."

Not to mention the fact that the D-backs are trying to hang on to a playoff spot with just 10 games left in the season, and Owings pitched his best game of the year in the heat of a pennant race to keep the team a game ahead of the Padres in the National League West.

Owings couldn't make it to the fourth inning in his prior two starts, giving up a combined 12 runs -- five unearned largely on an error he committed -- in 5 2/3 innings, and for the initial batters of this contest, Melvin was concerned.

"It didn't look like there was command right away on the first couple of hitters, but he just got rolling," said the manager. "You could see his confidence come back around the third or fourth inning. He realized, 'I know what I'm doing again.' He had command of all of his pitches. His fastball, which just gets on you, is back."

"My ups and downs this year have been unreal," said Owings, who threw his second complete game of the year. "It seems I've had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

"I just tried to focus each pitch at a time. I know it's kind of cliche, but it's really about focusing on each pitch and executing and not worrying too much about this or that. Just trusting my stuff."

The offense helped Owings get settled in by putting four on the board in the bottom of the first. The D-backs have been very patient at the plate in their last couple of games, drawing eight walks in Monday's contest and nine against the Dodgers on Sunday, and they used that to their advantage against the erratic control of Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez.

Although a bunch of soft bloop hits were what ultimately chased Sanchez after just one inning, he didn't do himself any favors by walking two and falling deeply behind in the count to almost every batter, allowing the D-backs to take some swings at some hittable strikes. Out of Sanchez's 36 pitches, just 16 were strikes. He was removed early partially due to a pulled left oblique muscle.

"That obviously took the pressure off [Owings]," said Melvin. "It allowed him to get a little bit of breathing room."

The Giants also helped out Owings by swinging early and often in the count. Efficiency was the name of the game for Owings, whose last out came on a strikeout of pinch-hitter Ray Durham on his 101st pitch.

There were three innings where Owings had to throw less than 10 pitches. He walked one and fanned four.

"My guys behind me were great tonight, and [catcher Chris Snyder] called a great game," said Owings, "I only struck out four guys, so the defense was working hard, and I can't say enough about them."

You also can't say enough about Owings' performance under pressure, as he admits that the playoff race "is in the back of everyone's head." Even though everyone from the team maintains the mantra that no game is more important than another, after the tough eighth-inning loss Monday and the division lead shrinking to a game, there is no doubt the team needed this one.

"We had a tough loss last night, but being able to bounce back has kind of been our deal all year," said Owings. "That's what I love about this team. They're not going to worry too much about last night; just come out and do what you've got to do each day."

Jason Grey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.