Dustin McGowan: The Most Unlikely Home Opener Starter
“Your 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Home Opener Starter – Dustin McGowan.”
Hands up if you guessed Dustin McGowan would be pitching in front of a sold-out crowd of close to 50,000 fans at the Home Opener at the Rogers Centre. Anyone? Anyone at all?
You’re definitely not alone if you never thought you’d see McGowan get the ball for what will undoubtedly be the biggest game of his career on April 4th in Toronto.
The last time Dustin McGowan cracked the Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day starting rotation, it was comprised of Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch.
McGowan’s journey back to the majors has been nothing short of a miracle, but if you think about it, even the chain of events that took place this Spring Training which lead to Dustin McGowan securing a spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation is quite spectacular.
Firstly, J.A. Happ had to have a horrendously bad Spring Training. The man next in line, Ricky Romero also had to get roughed up in Grapefruit League action. Marcus Stroman showed he didn’t quite have the polish to make his big league debut.
Kyle Drabek also had to create some doubt as to whether he was ready to return to his pre-Tommy John surgery self. And not to mention, the Blue Jays also had to fail to sign or trade for another starting pitcher in the offseason.
If the Blue Jays signed Ervin Santana like they should have, Dustin McGowan likely never gets the chance to start in the first place. So that’s five things that had to happen in succession for Dustin McGowan to even have a shot at making the rotation.
Going into Blue Jays Spring Training, they had upwards of 11 candidates to make the final five starting pitchers (Dickey, Buerhle, Morrow, Happ, Rogers, Redmond, Hutchison, Drabek, Stroman, Nolan, McGowan) with Dustin arguably at the bottom of that list.
Here are the facts; Dustin McGowan hasn’t made a start in the month of April in six years. McGowan hasn’t made a big league start in over 2.5 years. He also hasn’t thrown more than 26 innings in six years.
So you can see why the deck is stacked against Dustin McGowan.
With all this in mind, Dustin McGowan’s path to becoming the starter for the 2014 Home Opener was truly baseball serendipity at its finest. Call it happenstance, call it luck, call it whatever you want, but there’s no denying the odds McGowan had to overcome to get here.
If you think about it, Dustin McGowan’s career path plays out like that of a Disney movie; a man who’s essentially missed the past five years of his career, but who has gotten a second lease on his career at age 32.
So why exactly have the Blue Jays held onto Dustin McGowan this long? I remember at the time in 2012, his contract extension was quite curious for a guy who ended up not pitching at all that year. The contract was a gesture of good will more than anything.
And say for some crazy reason this experiment somehow works out, the Blue Jays also have a $4.5 million dollar option on Dustin McGowan for next season as well. So 2014 isn’t necessarily the end of the line for him with the Blue Jays.
Some may call it an unwavering loyalty to Dustin McGowan, but I believe part of it is the organization’s propensity to hang onto “live arms”, no matter the cost. Recent examples of that lie with Dustin McGowan, Jeremy Jeffress, and to a lesser extent, Brandon Morrow.
All three are arguably guys that other organizations would have given up on long ago, but the Toronto Blue Jays have stuck by them, whatever their motivation is.
I’m not sure if the Blue Jays are afraid of Dustin McGowan becoming the next Chris Carpenter and “the one that got away”, but they certainly signed him to a contract extension when they didn’t need to.
As much as Alex Anthopoulos wants to play this off as a decision that was months in the making, my suspicion is that it was one out of necessity; the Blue Jays needed to stretch Dustin McGowan back out into a starter because they had nobody else.
It was reported during the offseason the Blue Jays might look into the possibility of stretching McGowan back out into a starter, but I think most thought the Blue Jays wouldn’t need to. A free agent signing or acquisition would render Dustin’s move from the bullpen to the rotation as unnecessary.
Keeping Dustin McGowan as the fifth starter likely isn’t a long-term solution for the Blue Jays, either. They’re likely just biding time until J.A. Happ returns from the disabled list or Marcus Stroman gets called up from Buffalo.
After that, I imagine the Blue Jays would just move McGowan back into the bullpen and make a corresponding roster move by letting go of Todd Redmond or Jeremy Jeffress. But then again, perhaps McGowan does make it to the All-Star break as the Blue Jays fifth starter.
When it comes to fifth starters, Dustin McGowan was surprisingly the best candidate for the job. He may not have been during the offseason or the beginning of Spring Training, but lo and behold here he is back in the starting rotation for the first time since 2011.
Dustin McGowan may be the most unlikely Home Opener starter, but he certainly is the best story. And sometimes that’s what baseball is about; great tales. And regardless of how it eventually turns out, this will certainly go down as a good one.
Image courtesy of CBC