McGowan makes his return

It was more than three years in the making but Dustin McGowan finally made his long-awaited return to the Major Leagues on Tuesday night.

In a way, the game had an almost Spring-Training-like feel to it. That’s because the outcome didn’t seem to matter – the game was already well out of hand by the time McGowan took the mound. Instead the focus was on the personal struggles McGowan has suffered through during the past three years and what it took for him to get back into a big league uniform.

The long road to recovery has been well-documented over the year. Surgery after surgery, setback after setback. But the version of McGowan that took the mound against Boston seemed to have all the makings of a pitcher who isn’t just content with making his return but intent on having an impact.

McGowan consistently threw in the mid-90s while also displaying an impressive slider and changeup. Most of the post-game talk centered around how effortlessly he appeared to be throwing the ball. It’s possible that all the time away from the Majors gave McGowan an opportunity to perfect his delivery and make the most of his talents.

I had the opportunity to sit down with McGowan at the Blue Jays Minor League complex in the beginning of August. At that point, the Bobby Mattick Training Center was his home away from home. He spent the vast majority of three years working out at the club’s facility. He’d see other injured players arrive and leave again once deemed healthy enough. With the constant flow of bodies, the only real constant was the medical staff and his family who took up residence at a nearby resort.

At the time of the interview he had just been informed he would be making one last rehab start for Class-A Dunedin before being promoted to Double-A. He talked openly about his desire to just see another State and get back to pitching at a higher level. McGowan said by the time September rolled around he would be ready to throw five innings.

He never quite reached that level of work in one game during his stint in the Minors. But sure enough, there he was on Tuesday night coming out for his fifth inning of work. He wasn’t able to complete the frame but I think it’s safe to say that his opportunity to pitch in the starting rotation is going to happen before the season is over.

Here are plenty of leftovers from tonight’s post-game talk, which of course is all about McGowan:

Dustin McGowan:

“It was a little nerve racking jogging in. When I got there, everybody on their feet, it got to me a little bit, but you got to concentrate on pitching.”

“First inning, I was so pumped up, that everything was up. Sometimes it’s hard to pitch to a team that seems like they have it going from the start. Some nights you don’t want to go out there and face that team but second inning, I thought, ‘You know what, it’s the same thing. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s just like pitching in Single-A and Double-A. You still have to face the batters, throw the pitches where you want to and get them out.’ ”

Proudest moment?

“Baseball wise, yeah. It was special to come back and be able to do this after three years. Just want to thank this organization for sticking with me.”

On Farrell saying he could enter the mix as a SP….

“It means a lot. It gives me something to work towards but if it’s not this year, I’ll do what I gotta do in the bullpen this year and then have a fresh start next year.”

Feel like the Dustin McGowan of old?

“Somewhat I did, to tell you the truth. Stuff wise, maybe not quite as sharp and as strong as I once was. But I think that’s going to come as I get further away from the injury and it should come back I think.”

Mentally stronger now?

“Absolutely. To go through what I did for those years, you just learn. If that doesn’t break you then this should be cake. When you get out there you should be ready to go.

On moments of doubt during the long rehab…

“A few. I had those days where I’d go out and throw and I was like, ‘Man this is not good.’ The good thing is I got through it and now I’ve had other guys ask me when they’re struggling, it’s good I can tell them, ‘You know what, it’s not the end. Some things you just have to battle through and hope it will work out.’ ”

John Farrell

“I think the first zero we put up was in the sixth inning. Kind of tells the story right there.

“But on a night when things didn’t go our way in many phases of the game one of the more significant developments took place with McGowan’s outing tonight.”

“To think that there’s three-plus years in the time since he had his last big league outing, I thought the ball got out of his hand very good, didn’t overwork to create velocity, threw pitches for strikes, I thought a very, very good outing overall despite the three runs allowed.”

What surprised you the most about McGowan’s performance?

“The thing that was maybe surprising, but certainly encouraging, was the effort in which his delivery was generating. He didn’t come out of his delivery, he commanded the baseball. The two walks in the fifth inning (of work), that’s the first time he walked out to start a fifth inning in more than three years.

“Whether that’s fatigue related, I don’t know, but just the overall repeating of his delivery and the overall pitch mix along with the power to his fastball was very encouraging.”

What did you say to McGowan after his outing…

“Just mentioning to him, don’t look at the overall line score here. Look at the way the ball came out of your hand and his ability to repeat his delivery and generate good velocity without overworking. It was a very encouraging outing for him.”

On McGowan’s role moving forward….

“We’re in that time of year where we’re trying to get answers to questions. I think we go into the off-season with questions surrounding our pitching staff, particularly our rotation. If we continue to gather that type of information as we go forward, this is got a first step towards a significant development.”

On anticipation in the dugout before McGowan came into the game…

“I can’t say there was a whole lot because we were getting our (butts) kicked so bad. The scoreboard was so lopsided but I think everyone saw him warm up and there’s been a lot of new faces since the last time he has pitched here. So, in some cases they might not recognize the amount of work he has gone through.”

Did McGowan’s performance create an opportunity for him to start that might not have been there before?

“Our mind was completely open with his arrival back to the big leagues. You never know what you got until you see him walk out there and see how big league hitters react. The lateness and the quick action to the stuff at the plate. The most encouraging thing was the way he didn’t really overwork to get his velocity. That, to me, is a huge telltale sign of how a guy feels strength wise.
Did he look like the McGowan of old?

“Pretty darn close. When you look at those four pitches and the way he stayed together. That’s a powerful man that has good touch and feel for multiple pitches and he showed that tonight.

Are there comparisons to seeing McGowan come back and Jon Lester’s return when you were pitching coach of the Red Sox?

“I think any time you have pitchers that take a detour for whatever reason, there’s a personal victory that’s going on there. Having experienced two and a half years of rehab myself and know what that loneliness can be, and to see him walk out there tonight, like this, it’s a good first step.”

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