McGowan impressive in ML debut
Righty recovers from early jitters to throw five strong innings
TORONTO -- It's all part of being a rookie.Toronto's Dustin McGowan walked into the Blue Jays' clubhouse at the Rogers Centre for the first time on Saturday to find that his name had been spelled incorrectly. "On the lineup card they spelled it wrong," McGowan quietly laughed. "It's a tough name to spell, I guess." A similar mistake in the future seems unlikely, though, especially given the way he he pitched during his Major League debut. Toronto fell to the Rangers, 3-2, but McGowan impressed Jays manager John Gibbons with the outing. "He had a very good changeup and threw some good breaking balls and was around the plate," Gibbons said. "I was very impressed. That's going to take him a long way." Pitching before nine family members who made the trip from Georgia, the 23-year-old McGowan pitched five innings, allowing just one run on two hits with three walks in a no-decision. He struck out six, which is the most by a Toronto starter in his Major League debut. The Blue Jays made McGowan the 33rd overall pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft. He was recalled from from Double-A New Hampshire to start against Texas in place of Ted Lilly, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with left bicep tendinitis. The young right-hander has been recovering from the elbow ligament replacement surgery he had last May and hadn't faced a professional batter above the Double-A level this season. In six starts with New Hampshire, McGowan was 0-2 with a 3.34 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 35 innings. Then, on two days' notice, he had to step in to face a Rangers team that leads the Major Leagues with 171 home runs. The reality of the task before him took a slight toll on his nervous sytem in his first big league minutes. "I was a little jittery off the start," McGowan said. "I've been nervous ever since they told me a couple days ago. ... Usually, after the first pitch I throw it goes away, but this was a little different today." McGowan walked David Dellucci and Michael Young to start off the first inning, which prompted a quick visit from Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. "He just told me to relax," McGowan said. "He told me my stuff was good enough to get them out and said, 'Just go after them. Don't give them too much credit.'" It worked. McGowan recovered by setting down Mark Teixeira, Hank Blalock and Alfonso Soriano in order -- a trio that has combined for 73 homers. And he did it without much use from his mid-90s fastball, which McGowan said he considers to be his best pitch. The right-hander used mainly a mix of offspeed pitches to keep the Rangers guessing. "You've got to expect that from a young guy -- a little bit of nerves, but he handled himself very well," Toronto catcher Greg Zaun said. "I was real happy with what we saw out there. He showed me an ability to go to something else when his fastball's not there for him. That's already a step in the right direction." Zaun also had to like that, like a good rookie, McGowan didn't shake off any sign his catcher gave him. "Whatever Zaun threw down, I just went with it and trusted [him]," McGowan said. The lone run the rookie gave up came in the second inning. McGowan gave up a single and a double to Kevin Mench and Gary Matthews, Jr., respectively. Then, Texas catcher Rod Barajas followed with a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Mench. After the double, McGowan didn't allow a hit to the final 12 batters he faced. He finished with 91 pitches -- 49 for strikes. Toronto was leading, 2-1, when McGowan left the game, but a solo home run by Adrian Gonzalez off Jays reliever Jason Frasor in the sixth inning nixed the rookie's bid for his first Major League win. He might get another shot, though. "We haven't really looked at [when McGowan might pitch again]," Gibbons said. "But he deserves another one. He looked good. It would've been nice to get him a win." With starter Roy Halladay's return from a leg injury being pushed back and Lilly on the disabled list, the Blue Jays might consider starting either McGowan or Scott Downs on Thursday against Chicago.
Jordan Bastain is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.