Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Dustin McGowan, whose season never really got started after a myriad of problems derailed what appeared to be progress in his recovery from yet another injury, has been shut down for the year and scheduled for exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. The prospect of such an event happening was neither unlikely nor unforeseeable.
And here’s why: Dustin McGowan has had a tremendous amount of difficulty staying healthy. This seems to be a point of contention among Blue Jays fans, but it shouldn’t be. Writing about these difficulties isn’t akin to criticism of the player. No one is questioning his drive to get healthy or work ethic in preventing harm. He’s merely been dealt a shitty hand in the card game of genetics. His body simply can’t stand up to the rigors of practicing and performing baseball at the Major League level.
This isn’t based on assumptions or on the recommendations of medical degrees procured online. We know he has a hard time staying healthy based on his health history, which at the professional baseball level, began in 2004, when the top prospect in the Blue Jays organization suffered his first serious injury. Pitching for Double A New Hampshire, McGowan blew out his elbow, requiring Tommy John to replace his UCL after only his sixth start of the season. Then, while rehabbing, the right-hander was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
Undeterred, he pushed on with his recovery and then spent parts of 2005 and 2006 in Toronto where he ultimately failed to impress. He started 2007 at Triple A Syracuse, but was called up in early May when members of the Blue Jays rotation began suffering right and left-arm shittiness. We remember you, Tomo Ohka and John Thomson.
He grabbed hold of the opportunity and won a regular place in the rotation. However, McGowan suffered from shoulder pain throughout the next season and spent some time on the Disabled List until it was decided in July that he would undergo season-ending surgery to repair a frayed labrum in his shoulder. Unfortunately, his recovery from the surgery was slower than expected and McGowan didn’t begin throwing a baseball again until May of 2009. Then, in early July, it was discovered that McGowan would require knee surgery to repair articular cartilage damage. A month and a half later, McGowan resumed his rehab in hopes of being available for 2010.
After making an appearance in a Minor League Spring Training game in which he was a shell of his former self, McGowan gave up on trying to make the Opening Day roster. Instead, he continued his rehab in Florida while the rest of the team headed North. Then, in June, he once again experienced pain in his shoulder. It was later discovered that he had torn his rotator cuff and would once again require season-ending surgery.
With the nerve of Sisyphus, McGowan again endured rehab, this time successfully returning at the end of the 2011 season to appear in the Majors for the first time since 2008, actually starting four games for the Blue Jays. At the beginning of this season, he entered Spring Training with a real chance of keeping his place in the rotation, but once again suffered an injury, this time to his foot.
Strangely, it was at this time the Toronto Blue Jays announced that McGowan had signed a three-year extension that replaced the contract he had already signed for 2012. The new deal guaranteed the pitcher $4.1 million despite his making a grand total of five big league appearances since July 8th, 2008. Despite the inexpensive terms, I hated the deal at the time, and I hate it now.
Trying to find a reason to defend the timing of such an offer from the Blue Jays, I could only imagine that the front office didn’t want McGowan rushing back from rehab to earn himself another contract. With a deal already in place, he could take his time, and not push himself through 2012, which would only help his long-term progress. Such thinking would’ve been a lot easier to defend if it weren’t for the third year of the deal or a fourth year club option that pays him an additional $500,000 if it’s not picked up.
From there, McGowan was shut down after the minor foot injury proved to be a more serious case of plantar fasciitis than what was originally thought. Then, in April McGowan again started experiencing pain in his shoulder, and his rehab was temporarily shut down. This was followed by yet another setback in June when pain was once again felt in his throwing shoulder. And now, we deal with today’s surgery announcement.
This is merely the latest in a long, long line of bad news for McGowan, and at this point such announcements have become somewhat anticipatory. It’s difficult to imagine any result from the exploratory surgery to be the least bit surprising: from finding that he’s perfect fine to the discovery of a minion of mini-demons inhabiting the pitcher’s blood and wreaking havoc on all his muscles, bones and sinews.
This is simply what Dustin McGowan both has become and always was. It’s our expectations and management’s transactions that suggested something more, so if there’s any disappointment to be had, it should be in that and nothing else.
Forgive the Lehrering in parts of this article detailing McGowan’s injury history, we’ve been over it a few times.