TORONTO – Maybe it’s the truncated spring. Or perhaps it’s the five years he spent trying to get healthy that’s the culprit. Regardless of what’s at the root of Dustin McGowan’s mid-outing fades, the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander simply doesn’t have the stamina to pitch deep into games right now.
“It could be,” he said when asked if his shortened camp was behind the fatigue he’s feeling. “We sped it up a lot, usually you wouldn’t increase that much that fast, but we had to and we did it. I’ve just got to find a way. There’s a way, I’ve just got to get it past that hurdle.”
McGowan came undone in the fifth inning of a 10-8 loss Wednesday night to the Baltimore Orioles, leaving the game with the bases loaded and none out. He threw 70 pitches, 43 of them were strikes, and many of those were turned into loud outs.
More pivotally, it was the third time in four starts he failed to get more than 12 outs and the cumulative toll of all those innings he’s leaving behind isn’t good for a bullpen that’s already being forced to carry eight men. The short bench played a role in the loss, as manager John Gibbons burned his three-man bench pinch-hitting for Ryan Goins in the seventh, when Moises Sierra never made it out of the on-deck circle because Darren O’Day came on for Brian Matusz, and Josh Thole ended up hitting.
Thole singled home a run, and Jonathan Diaz filled in for him at second base, so it worked out at the time, but when Diaz came up with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, Gibbons had no options remaining. Diaz ended up hitting into a game-ending double play, underlining the wider consequences of the starters’ inability to get deep into games.
"There’s nothing we can do about it because we need eight guys in the ‘pen, that’s for sure," said Gibbons. "That’s just the way it is, like it or not that’s the way it is."
What that means for McGowan is sure to be a key talking point in the days to come.
It was worrying, though not entirely surprising, to hear him admit to fatigue later in outings, and that’s not something that’s going to resolve itself easily. As he explained, "the body just feels like it runs out of steam a little bit. I shouldn’t be feeling that, I should be at the point where I can go 90-100, especially the way my arm feels. It feels great."
Candidates to fill McGowan’s spot would include Todd Redmond, who took over in the fifth and surrendered the game-turning grand slam to Nelson Cruz, Esmil Rogers and J.A. Happ, who surrendered a solo shot to Matt Wieters in 2.2 innings of work.
Given that Happ arrived at spring training with a spot in the rotation and lost it when a back injury forced him to the disabled list, he’d appear to be the most logical pick of the lot.
The Blue Jays also regard prospect Marcus Stroman, currently at triple-A Buffalo, as a fully formed pitcher waiting for an opportunity.
Then again, the Blue Jays could keep rolling the dice and hoping McGowan builds up his physical capacity with a few more reps on the mound. His spring was interrupted by flu-like symptoms, and he was rushed into the season with a 90-pitch simulated game the day after camp broke.
In his four big-league starts, he’s thrown 72, 90, 85 and 70 pitches, his only win coming April 11 when he threw 6.1 shutout innings in a 2-0 win over at Baltimore. The Blue Jays are 1-3 in his starts.
Gibbons was evasive on the subject after the game, twice changing the topic when asked if he was concerned about McGowan, who could again be a very effective weapon out of the bullpen.
Catcher Dioner Navarro has noticed the drop-off in McGowan’s stuff, leading to a loss of command.
"I think the quality is still there, it just goes down to execution," he said. "Obviously that's not the way he wanted to pitch but it's going to be up to whoever to figure out. I think he was throwing the ball well, he was in the strike zone and then all of a sudden we kind of went away from the game plan and it hurt us big."