Dustin McGowan’s resolve was never in doubt.
It was there for all to see, battling back from the almost countless physical setbacks that sidelined him for the better part of five seasons to claw his way back into the ranks of Major League Baseball as a pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays.
After finally making it back last season to become a productive member of the Toronto bullpen – one of the team’s few bright spots during an otherwise dreary year – McGowan still itched to become the starter he once was.
It almost defied conventional wisdom that somebody whose right pitching shoulder has already been subjected to three operations would want to tempt fate once again by stepping back into a starter’s role.
After earning a spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation out of spring training and going on to make eight starts, McGowan said he could tell the physical stress was starting to take its toll.
And McGowan is now heading back to the bullpen, where the Blue Jays are hoping his veteran poise will bring some added stability to a group whose productivity this season has been somewhat spotty.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons announced the move Thursday afternoon, just hours before Toronto (21-21) went out and hung a 4-2 victory on the Cleveland Indians (19-22) at Rogers Centre in the rubber match of a three-game set.
“I think it makes us stronger,” Gibbons proclaimed about McGowan’s bullpen return.
After getting mauled for 22 hits during a 15-4 fleecing by the Indians 24 hours earlier, the Blue Jays were eager for some payback, especially Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion swatted two home runs to go with a double during a 3-for-4 night at the plate, driving in three of the Toronto runs before 17,364. The big designated hitter now has eight homers on the season.
J.A. Happ (2-1), in his third start of the season, pitched effectively if not efficiently to earn the win, lasting six innings, where he gave up one Cleveland run off six hits.
Closer Casey Janssen came on in the ninth to earn his second save since returning off the DL.
Anthony Gose started in centre, having been called up from Triple-A Buffalo earlier in the day after Colby Rasmus landed on the 15-day disabled list with a sore hamstring.
McGowan had been inconsistent in a starting role this season with a 2-2 record and a 5.08 earned run average.
He struggled in his last outing on Wednesday against the Indians, where he surrendered four runs off nine hits over four wobbly innings.
The 32-year-old said it was only over his past two starts, where his arm was slow to lose the soreness most pitchers will experience a day or two after an outing, that he came to the conclusion his continued membership in the rotation might be in peril.
A discussion ensued on Thursday afternoon in Gibbons’ office and the decision was made for McGowan to return to the bullpen, a move that the pitcher said he is in line with but is still obviously trying to fully accept.
“I actually agree with it to a certain point,” McGowan said. “Just not recovering the way I want to right now, recovery’s starting to get slower and slower. And I was the first one who said that I would tell them when I’m starting to feel a little sore.
“That being said, the arm feels good, there’s no pain or anything. I’m always ready when it’s on game day. Who’s to say in three or four starts from now something bad did happen.”
Gibbons said he is happy to welcome McGowan back in the bullpen, where he was one of its most consistent members a year ago when he sported a 2.45 ERA in 25 games, restricting opposing batters to a .190 batting average.
“To be honest with you, I think this will prolong his career,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons said he has still not decided who will move into McGowan’s starting slot, but has not ruled out either rookie Marcus Stroman or Todd Redmond, who made 14 starts for the Blue Jays a year ago, as prime candidates.
From here on in, McGowan said, there will be no looking back. From now on he is Dustin the reliever, not Dustin the starter.
“I think that’s what we’re going to try and go with,” he said. “It’s hard enough flip-flopping, trying to do both. I’m at that point in my career, it’s time to make up my mind up and stick with it and go about my business that way.”