Why McGowan should get a chance in Jays rotation

After a dominant three innings of relief pitching on Thursday, Dustin McGowan talks about his role with the Jays and states he's ready to pitch out of the bullpen for the club if needed.

CLEARWATER, Fla. – For the first time maybe the entire spring, a non-Drew Hutchison candidate for the bottom of the Blue Jays’ starting rotation took the mound and had a terrific outing, throwing down the gauntlet before his competitors, daring them to better his efforts.

Esmil Rogers had a fine 80-pitch performance against the Phillies, allowing just a run on five hits over 4 2/3 innings, walking only one (hitting another) and striking out six. It was the best he’s looked all spring, better than anything J.A. Happ has done so far and also better than most of Todd Redmond’s work.

So of course, Rogers’ efforts were overshadowed. The biggest thing to come out of the Blue Jays’ win over Philadelphia was just how good Dustin McGowan looked.

The Jays’ ever-present tease, McGowan came out of the bullpen firing bullets, and allowed just one hit over three dominating innings of work. He struck out five without issuing a walk, and pitched brilliantly out of a second and third, none-out jam in the seventh by notching two of those five strikeouts and inducing a weak ground ball. Blue Jays fans, as they wiped away their drool, wondered why the heck not give McGowan a try in the starting rotation?

My answer to that is: Why the heck not give McGowan a try in the starting rotation?

John Gibbons said before the game that McGowan wasn’t going to be a starter, that the best thing for him and the team was for the righty with the incredible arm to pitch out of the bullpen. Obviously, the fewer innings he pitches, the less chance for his surgically-repaired elbow and shoulder to go blooey. Again. The Jays have invested a lot of time and money in McGowan and would like to finally get a return.

But here’s the thing: He’s finally healthy, and in position to be on the Opening Day roster for the first time in six years. Wouldn’t you rather have four or five innings out of Dustin McGowan every fifth day than four or five innings out of Happ, Rogers or Redmond?

It’s not to disparage the other three, but when any one of them takes the mound, you’re really kind of hoping to get through five, maybe six, and to get a solid performance. With McGowan, one feels that there’s a much better chance for a much better result every time out. His stuff totally overwhelms that of the other three. Even after all the surgeries, his fastball is in the mid- to high 90s, and he still throws a killer slider.

Esmil Rogers made 20 starts for the Blue Jays last season. He lasted fewer than six innings in exactly half of those starts. He gave up four runs or more in eight of those 20 starts.

J.A. Happ made 17 starts last season, not counting the one in which he was drilled in the skull by a Desmond Jennings line drive. He went fewer than six innings in 12 of those starts.
Todd Redmond made 14 starts last season. He only lasted more than six innings twice, and went fewer than five innings five times.

Clearly, you’re not going to be getting innings from whosoever should win the final spot in the rotation, so it becomes about getting quality in the innings that you’re going to get. Unquestionably, McGowan offers the best shot at that.

McGowan threw 48 pitches Thursday against the Phillies. He could throw 60 next time out and 75 in another outing before the end of Spring Training and be ready to start the fourth game of the season, April 3rd against the Rays. Even if you want to keep him at 75 pitches, I would gladly take 75 pitches from Dustin McGowan every fifth day over hoping for a good 90 from any of those others and so, too, should the Blue Jays.

It’s a gamble, of course. McGowan hasn’t shown that his arm can handle the stress of a starting pitcher’s regular requirement. Heck, he’s thrown just 94 total innings – minors and majors combined – in the last FIVE YEARS.

But isn’t it time to gamble? McGowan will be 32 years old by Opening Day. This is his 15th year in the Blue Jays’ organization. Through no fault of his own, he hasn’t been able to deliver on the immense promise that had him once called the man who would be “1A” to Roy Halladay atop the Blue Jays’ starting rotation. Again, he’s finally healthy. He wants to start. And he’d be in a more controlled environment then the ups and downs of relief work.

McGowan is a valuable member of a very good Blue Jays’ bullpen, it’s true, but even without him as a reliever, they’d still have Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup fronting an excellent relief corps.

He may not last long in the starting rotation, though hopefully McGowan could take the proverbial ball and run with it. But if he starts to fatigue after a few starts, well, Marcus Stroman ought to be ready by mid-May, if not sooner, and McGowan can always go back to the bullpen if his arm can’t handle the rigors of starting.

At the very least, using McGowan would give the Blue Jays their best possible opportunity to get five quality innings out of that last spot in the rotation. All their attempts to bolster the starting staff from without have failed. It appears that Drew Hutchison will be a great addition from within – why not attempt to double the pleasure?

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