Ex-Curve star finally hits the big show

Rudy Owens is the best pitcher in Curve history, if only taking into account how he performed in an Altoona uniform.

But if ever there was proof that how a player performs in Double-A is no indication of how quickly he will get to the big leagues, it’s Owens.

The left-hander finally made it to the majors Friday night, getting called up by the Astros to make a spot start in Seattle. He didn’t pitch well, giving up two runs in the first inning and five overall in 5 2/3 innings as the Mariners pounded Houston, 6-1.

Owens really didn’t even deserve to get called up. He has gotten hammered this season in Triple-A, with a 6.05 ERA, but the Astros had someone go down with an injury and probably figured they’d give the 26-year-old lefty an opportunity to see if he could handle the challenge.

Given his rough outing, it was questionable whether Owens would remain with Houston for another start. And frankly, the Astros did not see enough positive things because he was sent back down on?Saturday.

But, the Owens story is fascinating because, back in 2010, he was fantastic for the Curve. He went 12-6 with a 2.46 ERA, had 132 strikeouts to only 23 walks in 150 innings (a terrific 6-to-1 ratio) and posted a superb 0.980 WHIP.

He was without question the best pitcher in the Eastern League, although the circuit’s annual award ridiculously went to New Hampshire’s Kyle Drabek (14-9, 2.94, 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 1.198 WHIP).

I had always considered Zach Duke the best pitcher in Curve history after he went 5-1 with a 1.58 ERA in 2004. Duke started only nine games for Altoona, though, and there’s a good chance his numbers would not have been as good as Owens overall had he logged the same number of Double-A starts (Rudy made 26).

It’s a good debate, but I give Owens the nod over Duke when it comes to most successful Curve pitcher.

More importantly than my Double-A ratings, in 2010, Owens was better than Tony Watson and Justin Wilson and Jared Hughes and Bryan Morris.

“To me, Rudy Owens was by far and away the best pitcher on our 2010 staff, and every time he took the ball, I knew that we were going to win,” Curve broadcaster Mike Passanisi said.

It didn’t take long, however, before Watson, Wilson, Morris and Hughes surpassed Owens, and all four are currently key members of the Pirates.

Owens, meanwhile, fizzled starting in 2011, posting a 5.05 ERA at Triple-A Indianapolis. The Pirates traded him to the Astros for Wandy Rodriguez in 2012, and he suffered a broken foot that derailed him last year.

I have no idea what happened to Owens after he left Altoona. Every one of his Curve statistics indicated he was a legit prospect rather than a fluke, and it started with his excellent control. He only threw about 92-93 mph, and while that’s not the 97 mph that Watson and Wilson can throw, it’s good enough for a lefty to be successful in the majors.

“I think it’s incredibly surprising that Rudy is the last of those guys to go up, especially with rosters expanding in September and pitching always being at a premium,” Passanisi said. “For me, I assumed that Rudy would at some point reach the bigs in 2011 with a spot start, bullpen call-up, what have you, but it never worked out that way.”

Owens is a bit of an oddball character, and while that’s grasping for straws, it’s the only thing I can think of as a possible reason for his struggles after leaving the Curve. He struck me as kind of a loner and quiet guy, and I recall a peculiar scene during the Curve’s EL title celebration when he was standing off to the side quietly by himself as almost everyone else in the clubhouse celebrated wildly.

When it comes to success at the highest levels of baseball, mental toughness is almost always one of the most important aspects. Watson and Wilson have shown tons of that with the Pirates, and perhaps Owens just doesn’t have what it takes in that department.

Whatever the case, it’s good that Owens finally has made it to the majors. Hopefully he gets to stick around a little longer this time or in the future.

When it comes to evaluating Curve players, though, Owens is one of the all-time poster boys for understanding that just because a player tears it up in Double-A doesn’t mean he has what it takes to succeed in the big leagues.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.