The story of Dustin McGowan is a rather amazing, harrowing (in outside-the-real-world millionaires-playing-sports terms), and at the moment, an uplifting one. And it’s one that I don’t want to be the guy constantly throwing cold water on. But at the same time, it’s a ridiculously cautious optimism I have– if you can even call it optimism– for the possibility that McGowan will show up as a 29-year-old and pick up anywhere close to where he left off in 2007.

That said, the early– very early– reports on him are glowing.

“In the early days of spring training, John Farrell has been careful not to praise his pitchers after a short mound session against batters who behave like statues,” writes John Lott in the National Post. “But on Tuesday, the Toronto Blue Jays manager could not hold his reserve. It was a hot day and maybe the sunshine was getting to him. But Farrell had also just watched Dustin McGowan throw 25 pitches to five teammates, some of whom muttered about the filth the big right-hander was serving up.”

“The right-hander, catching people’s eye with his command and stuff, dazzled teammates Adam Lind, Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar with his slider and changeup, each of them taking turns walking out of the cage shaking his head,” writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.

“The fact that he was down in the strike zone, with the kind of power he had, with the heaviness to his fastball, the action to his secondary stuff – he was impressive today, there’s no doubt,” John Farrell said, as quoted by both pieces.

Of course, Farrell said earlier in the winter that he doesn’t anticipate seeing McGowan going beyond 140 or 150 innings this season– itself a wildly optimistic suggestion, I think. They’ve started out being cautious, with McGowan working every three days right now, instead of every other day, as the rest of his fellow pitchers are. But the Jays, if we can take any impressions they’re giving us seriously (which we probably can’t), seem to think that having a proper off-season for once– as opposed to what Lott calls last year’s “ambitious rehab program that saw him throwing in earnest for almost 11 consecutive months– is going to help.

“He’s having a very good camp. It’s just great to see that after a normal off-season that he’s come back in and probably felt better about himself physically, and I think it’s showing up in the way he’s throwing the baseball,” Farrell said.

“It felt like me,” McGowan added. It’s easy to get carried away at this stage but, shit, let’s hope it keeps up.

Comments (46)

  1. don’t call it a comeback…

  2. I… want to believe in Dustin McGowan.

  3. Even if he ends up fizzling out, the fact is in September, after 3 years of rehab, he made it back to the major leagues.  And we should all stand up and applaud for that.

  4. AA was also very optimistic about McGowan when he gave his little press conference in spring training.  Having a healthy and somewhat vintage McGowan would be like adding half a year of Oswalt without paying $5M or $6M.   

    So long as he can remain healthy and can pitch the projected 140 innings, I think that the Jays would be very happy.  Having McGowan start the year in the back-end of the rotation also allows the Jays to groom the next wave (Drabek, Hutchison, Jenkins, McGuire) before they make their in-season starts.  

  5. I can’t wait to try the new Dustin McGowan meal at the restaurant in Rogers Centre.
    It comes with an ice-cold pitcher, two shaved mutton chops, some spicy sliders, and a pork shoulder that was sliced in half but still somehow holding together

  6. Me too. I’ve always felt that his injury issues have been a big part of why the Jays were not more competitive during the latter J.P. Ricciardi years. The 2008 club probably would have won about two more games than they did and the 2009 team might have won four or five more had he not been hurt. I realize that this wouldn’t have put them in the playoffs in either year, but if Marcum and McGowan had not been injured during the 2008 season forcing them to miss all of 2009 then a few other things might have wound up differently.

    I still think that Burnett would have opted out, but some improvements from that young pair of pitchers would have offset some of the drop off between Burnett and his replacement in the rotation. The fact is that the team might have won between 83 and 85 games instead of 75 in 2009 and the Jays might have been happy to keep Ricciardi around after that season. I wonder whether AA might be a GM with another team right now had it not been for those injuries.

    Of course, the pure optimist might say that if Marcum and McGowan were healthy and developing well in 2009 then perhaps the team might have been better able to build on their impressive 27-14 start that year instead of going into the tank. They did have a weak schedule early, but stronger starting pitching would have made a difference in keeping what was a very strong bullpen more rested. I seem to remember the relievers totally breaking down late in the year due to overuse, but maybe my memory is lying to me. Maybe they hang around until the trade deadline and manage to pick up another piece to give them a real chance that year. Or maybe I am just totally lying to myself and, at best, they would have come in third place instead of fourth.

  7. I think Sharkey has the right sentiment.  Great job by McGowan no matter what happens at this point.

    I just…. I just find it hard to believe he’s going to be a real contributor this year.  I mean, even when he was healthy he never had a season where he had truly figured it out, pitching wise.  Despite flashes of brilliance.

    It’s hard to believe he’s going to put it all together now, 3 years away from the game.

    I’m rooting for him though.

  8. “dazzled teammates Adam Lind…” hahahahaha. no kidding.

  9. You left out the part where on the last pitch of the session, every joint in his body simultaneously exploded.

  10. I don’t like the idea of breaking camp with McGowan. It could become too enticing to try and get a full season out of him, and then you’re likely back to square one. I understand the idea that the pitching prospects might be ready to take over midseason, but what if they aren’t and the Jays are still within striking distance of the 2nd wild card? If 140-150 innings are his team-imposed limit I wouldn’t even consider taking him off the DL until the middle of May.

  11. I like the idea of aiming to get 25 starts out of McGowan (25*6=150Ip), either by skipping him when possible, using Villaneuva as a spot starter on occasion and hell, maybe even a “planned” DL trip in July around the All-Star break. 

    That said, anything we can get from him has to be looked at as a bonus.  I wouldn’t have even bet on him being able to throw batting practice a year ago.

  12. I can see the Jays have McGowan skip some starts if he’s doing better than expected in the hope of stretching his season.  But they won’t push it.  If the Jays are within striking distance by the trade deadline, they could also be buyers.  The schedule gets tougher in the second half of the season – they will need all the help they can get.

  13. Why put yourself in the situation where in the best case scenario you have to fiddle around with Dustin’s schedule? Why is that preferable to keeping him in extended spring training for the first 8 weeks and taking it from there?

  14. You raise a valid point, especially if you consider that the Jays schedule is lighter in the first-half as compared to the second half.  But conversely, I would want to see what Dustin brings to the table sooner rather than later.  Add the fact that it might be too soon for the next wave of guys to be thrown into the mix on opening day.

    The way I see it, the Jays will take whatever Dustin brings to the season as a bonus.  You cannot figure that they were counting on him being a contributor in 2012. 

  15. McGowan is also a free agent after this season.  You’d have to think the Jays would get a discount on any contract, given the years that they’ve put into getting him healthy enough to pitch again.  Even if he’s pitching well, he doesn’t turn into much of a trade chip if he’s being shut down at 150 IP and due to be a free agent, especially given the lack of draft pick compensation.  On the other hand, it could be a good situation if the Jays are giving him 150 IP to show what he’s got, and he can sign a 3 year plus 1-3 option years at a low cost to the club if he shows promise.

  16. If McGowan isn’t hurt, they can’t put him on the DL.  The players union would file a grievance. It’s not like he’d consent to being left in extended spring training, if healthy, just because the team wants him to. The guy worked for 3 years to get back to where he can pitch in the bigs, he’s not going to wait any longer for a hypothetical reason.

  17. I really don’t think McGowan is that big of a tool that he’s going to bite the hand that has fed him all these years if they present him with the most logical course of action. Teams make up bullshit injuries all the time when it makes procedural sense for them to do so. Brandon Morrow did not want to miss April last year but the Jays took the decision out of his hands. They should do the same with McGowan if they don’t plan on letting him make 32 starts anyway.

  18. What would you suggest they do with McGowan then?  

  19. The same thing they did with Brandon Morrow last year. Keep him on the DL until the time you can take him off and hand him the ball every 5 days without having to worry about innings limits. The last thing I want to see is them fiddling around with a productive pitcher’s schedule in the middle of the season because they didn’t have the patience to wait.

  20. That big of a tool?  Really?  Imagine you’re McGowan. You’ve fought this hard to get back and you have the choice of A) taking a guaranteed rotation spot with the knowledge that you’re going to be shut down some time around mid-August or B) Start the season in extended spring, which puts your rotation spot in jeopardy if Drabek pitches well (which, despite what people here seem to believe now, isn’t at all out of the realm of possibility), just in case the team is in the hunt in August and doesn’t want to shut you down. Which are you going to take? 

    Any good will the Jays have with him would be completely lost if they tried to do that. It would be the ultimate kick in the teeth. “Yeah, we know you killed yourself to get here, but we’re not quite ready for you. But please stay loyal to us when you’re a free agent after the year, even though we’re clearly more concerned with what this does to our ability to contend than to your well-being.”

  21. This isn’t McGowan’s decision, so your choices aren’t relevant. He and the MLBPA can try taking the Jays to court but they’d lose if Brandon Morrow didn’t have a case last year. Morrow was vocal about not wanting to be sent down, thinking he was ready to go – the MLBPA would’ve been all over that if they were filing grievances every time a a player had issue with his labelled injury. I assume every MRI McGowan takes shows some degree of damage/injury to his shoulder and that the Jays would have 3 years of reasons to present to an arbitrator as to why they thought it was prudent to have McGowan stretched out in extended spring before handing him the ball at the highest level.

  22. “even though we’re clearly more concerned with what this does to our ability to contend”

    You must be missing my point, because I’m not saying that AT ALL. The Jays should start McGowan on the DL because they are more concerned with McGowan’s arm than contending, not the other way around.

  23. I would say the opposite tack with McGowan is the most likely – get your 150 innings out of McGowan at the start and let one of the young uns (Drabek, Hutchison, McGuire, Jenkins) be there for the end, or if they are in a race, a trade arm comes in.

  24. And, if he has done well, maybe he does not make it to free-agency (ie. mid-year, team-friendly contract extension). 

  25.  The difference is that Morrow DID have pain in the shoulder that forced him to miss a start at the end of spring, setting back his progression.  That justified keeping him on the DL for a week or two, not two months.  Apples and Oranges, really.

  26. Apparently I am.  I thought you were saying they should do this because they’d be forced to use a kid at the end of the year.  Missed the part about the temptation to extend him beyond his innings limit.

  27.  Brandon Morrow had a legitimate medical reason to be on the DL.  McGowan does not: past injuries do not count. 

    Three other points should be mentioned:
    Firstly, arranging for McGowan to debut in May would result in McGowan spending an extra month and a half getting into game readiness, throwing bullpens, and so forth, which would put more mileage on his arm, and likely reduce the number of innings he can safely give the Blue Jays during the actual season.  Secondly, a win in April counts exactly the same as a win in September.  Thirdly, with our young & developing pitchers (Drabek, Hutchison, McGuire) we may well be likely to need ML-ready starters more at the beginning of the season than at the end.  Fourthly, if the Jays somehow make the playoffs, McGowan might be an option for starting up again- if he’s had close to two months rest, but not if he’s been going straight since May.

  28. I don’t see the difference. As I said, the Jays should have PLENTY of evidence that a DL stint for McGowan is in the player’s best interests. Morrow didn’t seem to think he had enough pain in his shoulder to force him to miss anything, but the Jays disagreed. The same scenario would be even easier to prove on the Jays side regarding McGowan in a court hearing.

    “I was surprised,” a subdued Morrow said. “I didn’t think that I would need to go on the DL, that’s for sure. I thought maybe we’d take a couple of days, throw a bullpen, then make my scheduled start on Monday. My elbow feels all right. I’ve got full extension. It doesn’t bother me at all. It’s fine. I didn’t have any concerns before the MRI and it showed that there wasn’t any serious problems, like with a ligament or anything, just a little inflammation.” 

  29. That quote was entering the year, but once again, he had an injury that forced him to miss time in the spring.  McGowan would have to have something similar for that to come into play. 

    And you also seem to be taking how he would react to all of this completely out of the equation.  Morrow knew he’d be on the roster in a week or two and have the no. 2 starter spot.  McGowan would have no such assurances 2 months down the road (lots can happen in that time).

  30. Legitimate medical reason? Please. The only reason Morrow was put on the DL was to limit his innings because the Jays never planned on giving him 32 starts anyway.

  31. Give McGowan an MRI, show there’s some inflammation, and bam, you have the same “injury that forced him to miss time in the spring”

    I don’t see why you can’t give McGowan the same assurances you gave Morrow (although I doubt Morrow was assured of anything).

  32. He would actually have to miss time in the spring, not just “have this injury.” 

    And the reason you can’t give McGowan the same assurances is because you’re not dealing with JoJo Reyes and Jesse Litsch holding down a roster spot for 2-3 starts.  If whoever takes over that 5th role excels for 2 months, they’re not going to bump them.

  33.  ”Morrow felt discomfort in the elbow during his Sunday bullpen session.
    He approached Toronto’s medical staff with the news and had an MRI on
    Monday.

    The examination revealed inflammation”

    That’s a legitimate medical reason, and it wasn’t one that the Jays generated.  Morrow felt pain and had it looked into.  Could Morrow have started the season? Probably.  But an overabundance of caution isn’t the same thing as ginning up some excuse to keep McGowan in Florida.

  34. And missing time in the spring wouldn’t be beneficial for the Jays because that’s when he’d actually be competing in game situations.  Extended spring is nothing like that.

  35. don’t forget the shot of insulin.

  36. Also, I’m not saying your plan is even a bad one but just that I could see McGowan having a real problem with it, which would probably nix it.

  37. So you slow down his throwing schedule for a week. No problem.

    Why can’t you bump Cecil/Alvarez/Drabek to fit in McGowan in the EXTREMELY unlikely scenario all 3 are rolling along nicely while Romero & Morrow do their thing as well? How would it be any different to the Jays optioning down Litsch or Janssen to give older guys their bullpen roles despite the younger guys pitching effectively?

  38. Every MRI done on McGowan’s shoulder provides enough of a medical reason to shut him down. The legality of shutting a player down isn’t based around whether or not he comes to you complaining of discomfort. If it did there’d be serious problems, because most players try to hide their various ailments from the trainers in an effort to stay on the field.

  39. Slowing down his schedule for a week doesn’t justify 2 months.

    And why?  Because those 3 guys are people they want to be key pieces in the future.  It’s not like Janssen and Litsch who were never going to be anything more than back of the rotation guys.  If they’re showing they’re ready, it would be bad for their development to send them down.  And why is it EXTREMELY unlikely? I completely disagree with that assessment. 

    Once again though, McGowan is taking on added risk by taking this path, even if you and I disagree on the level of that risk.

  40. You keep implying McGowan has choices and paths to undertake. He doesn’t. He can try to get the MLBPA to file a grievance on his behalf if he’s actually upset with the team, that’s it. He’d lose. And I don’t believe he’d be upset with the team if they told him – we want you to throw 150 MLB innings this year but we want them to be uninterrupted, so we’re going to delay your start time just like we did with Brandon last year.

    I disagree that Janssen & Litsch were never going to be anything more than back of the rotation guys, and even more so when you make Cecil out to be anything better.

    It’s extremely unlikely because Alvarez has 10 MLB starts under his belt without a breaking ball and Drabek sucked royal ass last year. It’s extremely unlikely because teams don’t get through May using only their 5 best starters.

  41. In a perfect world, McGowan would have minor league options which would give the Jays some leeway in handling his workload.  The fact is that the Jays don’t have the luxury of sending him to some far flung minor league affiliate.  The MLBPA is wary of clubs using the DL as a means of avoiding the waiver wire. 

    So if Dustin is raring to go on Opening Day, he should break camp with the big club and likely pitch in the home opening series against the Red Sox.  Fans want to see that.  If I am Dustin, you can be sure that I want the fucking ball from the get go.  Remember that a win is April is just as valuable as a win in September.

    The Blue Jays will work with the trainers and doctors to come up with a viable plan that will best maximize McGowan’s 150 innings.  It might be something where they give him extra rest and have him skip some starts during the season.  Who knows?

    Bottom line is that whatever he brings, its all bonus for the Jays.

  42. Nobody knows what the right plan is, which is what worries me. Last year the Rangers swore up and down they’d back off Ogando but he was too damn good to stop until he ran out of gas in August, bounced back as a reliever before completely sucking in the World Series.

    It’s going to be very hard to effectively limit McGowan’s innings if you give him the ball out of the gate and he actually pitches well.

  43. Jaime Campbell said on PTS that Arencibia said that McGowan had the best stuff this spring he’s ever caught. When I heard that I couldn’t tell you how excited I felt. 

    This is a guy who threw 93-98 4seam and a two seam!!!! with regularity in the upper 90′s, that’s just filthy. A 97 mph 2-seam.

    A filthy slider in the 91mph range which he showed off last season

    A great hard curveball

    A wicked changeup

    If he’s back to what he was….put the AL on notice. Now if only his command was found along with his stuff.

  44. As he has an innings limit is there any talk of him pitching 3 starts them calling up a Hutchinson or McGuire to pitch the 4th? That would allow macgowan to pitch later into the season as well as give prospects a couple through out the season

  45. Mangement and the coaching staff have repeatedly said they would put the best team they can on the field.  To me, based on these early reports, that would imply that McGowan is in the rotation in April and gets shut down at some point in the summer.

    As pointed out by Gabriel above, a win in April is worth the same as a win in August.  When they need to shut him down, they will have a much better understanding of what is coming out of the farm system and if they are in contention and not positive that one of their prospects is ready to contribute at a major league level, then they’ll have to trade for a veteran arm.

    I really don’t see why it would be in anyone’s interest to hold McGowan off for 60 days.

  46.  It’s obvious you don’t really know what  you’re talking about.

    MLB has very stringent rules when it comes to the disabled lists, especially when it comes to keeping healthy players on the DL because they are out of options. Not to mention the doctors involved who have ethical and professional obligations not to lie.

    Teams can’t even send injured players on a rehab assignment without written permission from the player and approval by the commissioner’s office. The idea that a team can force a healthy player, who is out of options, to remain on the DL is ridiculous.

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