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Kyle McGowin and slider got Washington Nationals’ attention...

Raise your hand if you thought Kyle McGowin would come up and deal out of the bullpen this past season? Now put your hand down, liars!

MLB: SEP 27 Mets at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a season where not much went well and there weren’t too many positives (Juan Soto’s NL batting title; Luis García’s impressive debut) you take what you can get as far as highlights.

Kyle McGowin’s return to the majors, after his debut in 2018, and a total of seven outings in 2019, saw the 2013 5th Round pick (of the Los Angeles Angels), acquired in a deal for Danny Espinosa in 2016, come back with a filthy slider that made him look like a potential option in the 2021 bullpen mix.

“If he can continue to throw strikes,” manager Davey Martinez said in early September, “... he could earn that long-relief guy [role], because we need one. He could step in there. And also the way that righties saw him tonight, and they were pretty good hitters, we may be able to put him in a spot with just right-handed hitters and see where that takes us as well.”

McGowin, 28, spent the majority of the summer in Fredericksburg, Virginia, working out as part of the Nationals’ 60-Man Player Pool, and the right-hander took the time to focus on a slider that hitters put up a .182 AVG against in nine games and 11 innings pitched once he’d been called back up to the majors in September.

“In Spring Training they called me in and told me about my slider. They love it a lot, so they wanted me to focus on using that as a weapon, more so than in the past, as a reliever,” the right-hander explained.

“So I dedicated the whole time in Fredericksburg learning how to pitch with that pitch all the time, and pitch often with it.”

McGowin threw it 71.4% of the time in 2020 (up from 28.5% in ‘18 and 43.6% in ‘19 in his two previous, brief, stints in the majors).

“It’s my comfort zone,” he said. “My slider is my favorite pitch, I never have a problem not throwing it, so the more they want me to throw it the happier I’m going to be, honestly.”

“We wanted him to throw more sliders,” Martinez said. “It’s really good, really effective, he throws two speeds, one slower than the other, one hard. But we also changed his fastball.

“He was a sinker guy. We wanted him to start throwing four-seams elevated.”

“In college I never threw two-seams,” McGowin said after his 2020 debut. “When I got into pro [ball] I started to sink it a little more.

“I wasn’t getting the results I wanted up here with the sinker. My four-seam plays, so I wanted to transition back to that and have it tunnel off my slider, and then I just have a sinker here and there, but typically I want to go to the four-seam or the slider.”

McGowin struck out 12 of the first 26 batters he faced in the final month of the regular season, holding hitters to a combined .083/.154/.083 in 7 13 IP over that stretch (before giving up runs in each of his final three appearances).

“I said this before, he’s worked really hard,” Martinez said after McGowin struck out all three batters he faced in a 17-pitch appearance against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 16th.

“The biggest thing, and I tell these kids, you have to create your own identity, you got to know who you are, what kind of player you are, what kind of hitter you are, what kind of pitcher you are.

“McGowin went down there [to Fredericksburg] and figured that out, and he’s utilizing all his pitches very well.

“He’s doing well. But he did that. Nobody else could do it for him. He went down there and figured everything out, came back here, and like I said, he’s very confident of what he’s trying to do.

“He’s got two different kinds of sliders, he knows when to throw the slow one, he knows when to throw the hard one, he’s using his fastball a little better. And like I said, he’s doing way better, understands how to play the game and what he wants to do when he goes out there.”

Patrick Corbin, (who threw 40.3% sliders, as starter, in 2020), talked back in mid-September about how impressive what McGowin was doing out of the bullpen really was.

“You see some of the swings that he’s getting,” Corbin told reporters. “He’s throwing sliders in the zone that are freezing them for strikes, so that’s good to see, and his wipeout slider, a lot of swing and miss, and I think these guys had — they know what he’s throwing, it makes that fastball a lot better when he throws that slider for a strike.

“Obviously he has a swing and miss slider, and then able to locate a fastball. It’s good to see him come up and throw strikes.”

Being able to throw his slider for strikes, and get swings and misses, Corbin said, is the key to McGowin’s success.

“It looks like he fools them when he throws it for a strike,” Corbin said. “I think that’s a good sign of a really good slider, that you’re throwing it in the zone, and locating it in the strike zone, and keeping them off-balance and then you’re almost forcing them to swing later in the at bat when he throws a better one.”

Will McGowin be able to build on his successful stint in the bullpen at the end of the 2020 campaign next Spring and earn a spot in the Nationals’ 2021 relief corps?