Dustin McGowan's Future with the Toronto Blue Jays: Starter or Reliever?

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Dustin McGowan's Future with the Toronto Blue Jays: Starter or Reliever?
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Dustin Michael McGowan, remember him? He is the pitcher who got called up in mid-2007 to replace the "veterans" Tomo Ohka and Victor Zambrano. Many can recall the great facial hair he rocked proudly in 2008, along with those goggles, due to diabetes. (If you forgot how he looked, have you seen Brett Cecil lately?)

Last but not least, who has forgotten the complete game one-hitter he threw against the Colorado Rockies? Oh that Jeff Baker, spoiling his no-no bid leading off in the ninth inning. (That was also the game Frank Thomas launched his 499th home run.)

McGowan was a high-school pick in the 2000 draft and slowly worked his way up through the minor league system before making his major league debut in 2005. He struggled early in his major league career, but he finally found success in 2007 upon a mid-season call-up, locking up the fourth spot in the rotation, with Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch.

I have never seen a pitcher with movement on a high 90s fastball like McGowan. (Yeah, not even Aroldis Chapman or Stephen Strasburg.) I have seen McGowan’s fastball touch 100 mph but also have seen him throw 95-98 mph fastballs with significant sinking and running actions. He also featured a slider/split that touched 90 mph and a changeup that was consistently around 87 mph (Some pitchers wished they had a 87 mph fastball).

McGowan was showing a lot of promise and could be compared to today’s version of Brandon Morrow. Just like Morrow, McGowan is blessed with a great arm, and he was trying to establish himself as an elite pitcher in the league (and both have pitched complete game one-hit shutouts, with the no-no broken up in the ninth).

Would you rather see McGowan as a:

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There were those who said McGowan was not going to be a great pitcher due to his lack of control, shown by his high walks and 4+ ERA.

But I was one to believe it takes time for young, hard-throwing pitchers to find their control, and I had all the confidence in McGowan.

For example, one can look at the great strides Morrow has made over the past year and a half. He has found his control and is slowly becoming a solid No. 2 behind ace Ricky Romero. The last time I saw McGowan was a series in Pittsburgh, when Cito Gaston took over as the manager of the Blue Jays.

I never knew it would bee the last time he threw a baseball in the majors for over three years.

Within three years, McGowan has suffered several injuries and setbacks, including a frayed labrum, knee articular damage and a torn rotator cuff. However, McGowan and the Blue Jays didn’t give up on each other, and he is inching ever closer to a return to the MLB. The Blue Jays are currently stretching McGowan out to become a starter, and his next start will be made in AA New Hampshire. 

I am one to believe that McGowan will be better served if he came back as a member of the bullpen. This would not only mean a quicker return to the MLB but also less strain on that surgically repaired right shoulder.

Remember, we are not talking about Tommy John surgery here (now a requirement for every pitcher, it seems) or one shoulder surgery, we are talking about two shoulder surgeries, and the Jays cannot take any chances. McGowan is basically another shoulder surgery away from retirement.

To put things into perspective, when Casey Janssen returned from his shoulder surgery, he was stretched out as a starter. He struggled with his command and eventually suffered a setback. He was shut down and has now returned as a member of the bullpen (and has done a great job at it, too).

If you’re talking about a role for McGowan and want to be aggressive, he becomes the closer. If you're conservative, he becomes the set-up man. Many failed starters become closers and set-up men, namely Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain.

The requirement to become a good closer/set-up-man is the following: a great fastball with command and an out-pitch (unless you’re Mariano Rivera, where one pitch fills both requirements). Reports are saying McGowan’s fastball in Dunedin is touching 95 mph, and we know he does have that filthy slider/split pitch that he can throw in the high 80s and low 90s. He can also drop in a curveball or a changeup to throw hitters off-guard, too.

The second reason why I think McGowan should come back as a reliever is because of the plethora of young starters who can fill the fifth spot in the rotation. The top four for 2012 is probably Romero, Morrow, Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek, with Zach Stewart and Carlos Villanueva fighting for the fifth spot. The Jays also have Deck McGuire and Henderson Alvarez as outsiders, who can be called up mid-2012 if help is needed within the rotation. I also didn’t mention Jesse Litsch and Brad Mills. (I think both will be in the bullpen—a topic for another day.)

I know a lot of you are saying, “Chris Carpenter made a full comeback.” It’s true, but Carpenter came back from one surgery, and like I said, you want to be conservative with McGowan. Maybe let him get going as a relief pitcher for a few years, and if no signs of a setback are observed, initiate the conversion to a starter.

But all that matters right now is McGowan is pitching with the Dunedin Blue Jays with no setbacks and is inching closer to Toronto.

Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts, I can be reached and followed at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter

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