December 18, 1987: Rudy Owens
Rudy Owens turns 32 today and with each passing day, his chances of returning to the majors for a second chance become less and less likely. He is a rare Cup of Coffee Club player we can profile while he's still an active professional. Currently, Owens is a left-handed pitcher for the Fortitudo Baseball Bologna in the Italian Baseball League. A couple players have come out of that league and been successful in Major League Baseball, but very few at Owens' age.
His one game came in 2014 while pitching for the Houston Astros when the sleeping giants were on the brink of competing with some awful season in their recent past. Houston finished 70-92 that season, actually a big step up from their 51-111 season from the year before. The Astros sat at 17-31 entering play against the 23-23 Seattle Mariners on May 23 at Safeco Field. More than 21,000 fans piled into the stadium to see the divisional matchup.
Owens got the start for Houston and was given a fairly long leash. Opposing Felix Hernandez, Owens got tagged for two runs in the first when Kyle Seager drove in Robinson Cano and Justin Smoak with a base hit. He settled down, allowing just two hits and zero runs over the next two innings as the Astros got one back in the top of the third. The fourth started with a lead-off walk to Cole Gillespie. Dustin Ackley popped out, but then Mike Zunino singled to left, moving Gillespie to third. Then, Gillespie scored when the next batter, Willie Bloomquist, flied out to deep right field.
After James Jones reached on an infield single, Stefen Romero popped out on the infield to end the inning. Owens hadn't been tagged too hard, but his team now trailed 3-1. There was a sense Owens was on the ropes, but he reigned it back in the following frame. He hit Kyle Seager with a pitch, but otherwise was perfect in the fifth inning and was given the ball to trot back out for the sixth.
When Ackley grounded out to open the inning, it seemed like Owens was really cruising toward a quality start (at least six innings pitched and three or fewer earned runs), but then he ran into trouble. Zunino stayed hot, doubling to right-center and Bloomquist followed with the backbreaker: a two-run homer. After an unsuccessful Jones bunt and Romero walk, Owens' day was done. His final stat line: 5.2 innings, nine hits and five earned runs.
Owens was sent back down and finished out 2014 in Triple-A Oklahoma City where he went 8-5 with a respectable 4.33 ERA. He split time between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A in an up-and-down 2015 campaign and spent 2015-16 and 2016-17 playing for Toros del Este in the Dominican Winter League. His final professional experience in the States came in 2016 when he pitched for the Independent League's Somerset Patriots. After going 4-3 with a 4.01 ERA there, he left for Italy, where he is currently pitching.
The sand in the hourglass is running out on Owens' dream of getting out of the Cup of Coffee Club and latch on with another major-league team. Stranger things have happened, though, and unlike most Cup of Coffee Club players, we have the chance to see him leave the club over the next couple of years.