Before the 2004 season, Baseball America ranked Dustin McGowan as the 18th best prospect in baseball. He ranked just below Cole Hamels and just in front of J.J. Hardy. He was ranked ahead of current major league starters Gavin Flyod (23), Ervin Santana (29), Felix Hernandez (30) and Adam Wainwright (49). Now, ranking prospects in definitely as inexact science, but it goes to show just how special people thought he could be.
On Tuesday night, McGowan threw four innings in relief for the Blue Jays. It was his first major league action since 2008.
Coming out of high school, McGowan was a big arm that needed to learn to pitch. He walked 74 batters in his first 92 innings between 2000 and 2001 while pitching at rookie and low-A ball. He also struck out 99 batters during that stretch. During his is 2002 season, McGowan really started to refine his skills on the mound, lowering his walk rate to 3.6 BB/9 while posting a stellar 9.9 K/9. That season also included an 81.1 jump in innings pitched from the year before. He would throw 152.1 innings between high-A and double-A in 2003, but in 2004 he only lasted 31 innings before injuring his throwing elbow and heading for Tommy John surgery.
That would mark the first of four surgeries for McGowan during his professional career.
McGowan was fairly healthy after returning in 2004. He actually spent time in the major leagues each year from 2005 to 2008, but that’s when the injury bug crept back and bit him hard once again.
In July of 2008, after throwing 191.2 innings the year before, McGowan went under the knife again, this time to repair his rotator cuff. He was on the comeback trail in 2009, when a right knee injury that ended his season before he even threw a single in-game pitch.
Last year, McGowan needed yet another surgery for his torn rotator cuff.
Now 29 years old, McGowan has officially completed his comeback to the major leagues. He worked four innings in relief, allowing three earned runs on five hits while striking out five and walking three. Working comfortably at 93-96 MPH, McGowan also mixed in a changeup, curve and slider, getting a decent amount of swings-and-misses on all. His control was not sharp, but one can understand why.
What’s impressive about McGowan’s comeback to the big leagues is not only that he simply made it back, but that he was putting up impressive numbers, both in the stats and on the radar gun, to get there. In 35.1 innings between high-A and double-A, all as a starting pitcher, he posted 35 strikeouts to 14 walks with a 2.80 ERA.
Comebacks are a great part of sports and Dustin McGowan has persevered through the pain and scars to complete his. I bet if you ask him, however, there is a lot left to accomplish. I, for one, will be rooting for him…especially if he insists on keeping his 1970’s Mutton chops