There were many occasions over the last three years, dark times indeed, where Dustin McGowan thought he just didn’t have what it takes to be a Major League pitcher anymore.
Tuesday night at Rogers Centre, the 29-year-old seemed to ratchet back father time a few years and showed that there still is some magic in a surgically rebuilt right arm that has been the cause of all his uncertainty.
Although the Toronto Blue Jays were on the receiving end of a 14-0 demolishing by the Boston Red Sox, it was the performance of the soft-spoken Georgia native that shed some light on an otherwise bleak performance by the home side.
“I think any time you have pitchers that take a detour for whatever reason, there’s a personal victory that’s going on there,” Toronto manager John Farrell said. “And having experienced 2 1/2 years of rehab myself and knowing what that loneliness can be, and to see him walk out there tonight like this, it’s a good first step.”
McGowan, not having pitched at the Major League level since July 8, 2008, entered the game in the fifth inning, the Red Sox already ahead 11-0.
Many in the crowd of 17,565, baseball fans aware of all the setbacks the man once perceived as a possible future ace with the team has endured the past couple of years, stood and clapped in appreciation.
“It was a little nerve-racking jogging in,” McGowan said of the moment. “When I got out there, everybody on their feet, it got to me a little bit. But you’ve got to concentrate on pitching.”
It wasn’t an easy start with McGowan to face the meat of the Boston order in Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz.
Admittedly pumped and his pitches flying high, McGowan gave up a single to Gonzalez and then a double to Ortiz.
Former teammate Marco Scutaro then knocked a double to left field that scored two more Boston runs before McGowan recovered to get the next two batters and get out of the inning.
After that, McGowan settled in, and for all intents and purposes he appeared to be the pitcher he was back in 2007 when he joined the rotation and went 12-10.
That was his last healthy season before he injured his shoulder that would require two surgeries and countless hours of mindless rehab work to try to find his way back.
Tuesday night his delivery was smooth and easy and the velocity was up to 95 miles per hour. His pitches showed late, great movement.
“That’s a powerful man that has good touch and feel for multiple pitches,” Farrell said. “And he showed that tonight.”
McGowan would last four-plus innings, surrendering three Boston runs off five hits while walking three and striking out five.
“First inning I was so pumped up that everything was up,” McGowan said. “And sometimes it’s hard to pitch to a team that seemed to have it going from the start. Some night you just don’t want to get out there and face that team.
“But the second inning I just thought, you know what, it’s the same thing. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s just like pitching in Single A and Double A. You’ve still got to face the batters, throw the pitches where you want to and get them out.”
Right now the plan is to use McGowan out of the bullpen for the rest of the season.
But his performance in his first start back has given Farrell plenty to think about as far as the makeup of next year’s starting rotation.
“I think we go into the off-season with questions surrounding our pitching staff, particularly our rotation,” Farrell said. “And if we can continue to gather that type of information to factor in as we go forward, this is at least the first step towards a significant development here tonight.”